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Disclosure: I’m not an ambassador for the Run Revel series–but I sure would like to be! Revel definitely needs a Portland-based crew now that we have our own “hometown” Revel here, don’t you think? You know, someone to hang out at the annual Fleet Feet all-races expo, the weekend days of the local race expos, hand out flyers at the community events, make sure all the running stores have flyers…

2019: The Second Annual Revel Mt. Hood race! It’s not every race series that considers you a “legacy” runner at just your second year, but that’s definitely how Revel rolls. As I mentioned in my review of the Inaugural Revel Mt. Hood, I signed up for 2019 pretty much as soon as registration opened. (I had a great time, so why not?) This year my friend Tina flew in from Alaska for the weekend to join me, because the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics designated Revel Mt. Hood as a reunion race. More on that later. I was bummed to miss Revel Mt. Charleston this year (see my review here), so it’s great I now have a hometown Revel!

The ExpoThree runners posing with the REVEL sign

Expo At the Convention Center! While the Oregon Convention Center (actually the Portland convention center, but Portland likes to pretend it *is* Oregon) is perpetually under destruction–I’m not kidding, half the doors are boarded up, the statute dedicated to MLK is under a tarp, and there is landscaping going in officially in the name of beautification (but maybe in the actual name of preventing the homeless from sleeping there?)–it’s still a good spot to hold a race expo. It’s accessible by MAX, then a walk to the currently functional doors, and a quick run through an adult habitrail to get to the rooms used for race expos right now.

Small, but mighty… With a Saturday race, it’s a one-day expo. Tina went early to grab her packet, as well as a few for friends flying in late; I went after work. Neither of us experienced much of a line. This year I love the color of the women’s tank (you choose your shirt at registration: tank, short sleeve, long sleeve, or soft non-tech cotton), and this year’s swag was a pair of Revel-themed goodr! Everyone got to choose either a black or a light blue-green (which reminds me of the Sunbathing With Wizards goodr I completely banged up by losing the safety cloth…). Revel isn’t an inexpensive race–so register EARLY and get the best prices–but the swag is always quality. In past years, I’ve received socks, a beanie (the warm kind with a hole for your ponytail), and a Headsweats hat.

The swag bag included pre-race essentials, including a heat sheet and a pair of tosser gloves (though I’m cheap and re-use them for sweat during the race, and then wash them to use them again). There were also some very random samples (probiotics for runners, okay) and an event guide. This year the expo also had some fun new photo ops. Speaking of photos, ALL participants get FREE race photos!

Like last year, there was an app to enter to win a race. Each of the main race sponsors had a code to enter. Aside from the Revel series, the other sponsors included my favorite bluetooth headphones, Aftershokz (see my review), the Portland Marathon (now under management by Revel’s parent company), Honey Stinger, and, ugh, doTerra was back as a race sponsor. I still really hate that Revel has chosen to partner with a multi-level marketing (MLM) company of any brand. (MLMs prey on stay-at-home-moms and women in conservative religious communities. Most people lose money as MLM “independent sales representatives.”) The best thing I can say is that at least the “independent consultant” there wasn’t overly pushy. Once again, there is no mention anywhere on the website, at the expo, or any of the printed literature to warn runners that doTerra’s “blue” rub–available on the course–contains sweet almond oil. If you are allergic to nuts, THIS IS DANGEROUS!  Especially on a long course with infrequent medic stations. (No thanks, I’ll stick to BioFreeze when I need a muscle rub.)

A stack of goodrNew at the expo this year (or at least I don’t remember seeing them last year?): Eastwind Running & Endurance Club, which has a Wednesday night summer run series on Portland’s east side; a photo booth with props; and the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics booth, which had membership sign-ups, information about the clubs, and clearance merch (all of which was too small for me, at least in the styles I like). Since I didn’t leave work until 5, there was just enough time to chat our way through the expo, hang out with Gregg (the regional Half Fanatics/Marathon Maniacs ambassador, or at least one of them), take some photos, and race off to dinner–naturally I wrangled the group over to McMenamin’s Kennedy School, where I showed off a gem in Portland’s history.

Pre-Race

Get on the bus, Gus. As with last year, the Bain and Tina get ready to hit the bus to the race bus loading at the Lloyd Center hotel began at o’dark-thirty. With a first wave starting at 5:00 a.m. the marathoners got on board first. (I think they boarded at like 2:00!) Even though we swore we wanted to be in bed by 9:30, it was closer to 11:00 and the morning came way too early. Tina and I had prepped our gear the night before and walked over to the hotel in plenty of time. New this year: deluxe motor coaches for the drive to Mt. Hood!

Herd in the Corrals. The half marathon holding area was in the same place as last year. Basically, it’s perfect: not too far a walk from the start, plenty of room to hang out, loads of fresh porta-potties, water, and a DJ. What’s not to like? Like last year, I brought an extra heat sheet and made like a grounded baked potato pre-race. The busses arrived a bit later this year, so there was less slacker time before the race. In addition, this year the race was earlier in the year, so the sun came up earlier–rewarding runners with gorgeous views of the moon over Mt. Hood on the walk over to the start.

Run All The Miles (or 13.1 of them)!

The Course. As near as I could tell, the half marathon course was exactly the same as last year (which is fine by me–I knew exactly what to expect!). I remembered the mini-hill early in the course, and the uphill around mile 8 or so, and the uphill to mile 10, and the uphill at mile 12. Half marathoners enjoyed a great deal of lovely shade, green, and river views from mile 1 to mile 10, when the course joins the marathoners and Highway 26.

This year I felt like I totally smoked the first four miles. This is, of course, 100% subjective and bears no rational relationship to my actual speed. I started out trying to do the intervals assigned for my Chicago Marathon Training (I was supposed to run five miles with intervals of run 3, walk 2), but I messed up setting my watch and so had to time them manually. By mile 4 I was done with the intervals, and I ran random segments as it felt good. Still, without a solid training base? It was awesome! I felt fantastic. (In the pictures? Yeah…not so much. Still, I do love free race photos as a perk.)

The last three miles felt MUCH better than last year, but were not as amazing as the first few. One major change this year: the bus route changed. Last year, after turning onto the road that leads to the Rainbow Trout Farm (the finish line venue) at some point the running route aligned with the route the return buses took. This year, instead of bringing the buses out to the trout farm, Revel used golf carts to take runners out to the buses (waiting on a major surface road on the other side of the trout farm). It was delightful to run without bus fumes! Off-roading in the golf cart was a little bit like the adult version of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride;” I’m confident the driver was safe and did a great job (she’d been at it since 6 am!) but I was wearing running clothes, and the slick fabric of my knickers was not helping me stay seated in the rear-facing seat!

Eat All The Foods.

Finish Line ShenanigansFinish Line Perfection. Since I’m a slowpoke, I had the pleasure of being individually announced as I crossed the finish line. I grabbed a towel from a giant tub of ice water, as well as a bottle of chocolate milk and a bottle of water. After a quick stop at the (still very fresh!) finish line porta potties, I washed my hands (they had the water pump stations with soap and paper towels) and headed over to the Fanatics and Maniacs tent.

Each year the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics, two related clubs for people who are crazy enough to run tons of race for fun, choose several races to be “reunion” races. This draws people out from all over the place, as these special races come with a club tent (with tables and chairs, if you want them), and–for those who sign up properly–bonus swag! This race included an extra towel, club event tee, and special bling! I love being a Double Agent (member of both Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics). I’ve met so many great people online and at races; it was especially fun to meet people literally on the run at events, as we recognized each other by our club singlets. The clubs also have a monthly newsletter, race discounts, and private Facebook groups.

Anyway, after I collected my checked bag (contents: Oofos, sunblock, face wipes, warm-up clothing) and dropped it on the shaded lawn under the club tents, I collected the snacks. First, a slice of cheese pizza from Papa John’s and an old-fashioned chocolate glazed donut. Next, an ice-cold Diet Coke. I spent the remainder of the morning hanging out with other club members under the tent, and occasionally taking pictures. Tina’s friend was sweeping the marathon so we waited until she finished to leave–putting us on the final bus back to Portland (alas, a regular school bus) after the wild golf cart ride from the finish area.

Overall? See you at Revel Mt. Hood next year! Psst! Register by midnight  July 19 and use code EARLY to save an extra $10! https://www.runrevel.com/rmh/register

 

 

As you may have guessed from my lack of blog reviews on the 2018 Rock ‘n’ Roll Series,  I had a less than amazing experience for much of the year. Combine the lacking and lackluster race experience with the most frustrating ambassador experience I have ever had, and I just decided my blog didn’t need it. Out of an abundance of caution–I knew I could not return to the ambassador team (RIP Rock ‘n’ Blog) if I didn’t see some serious changes–I bought a bib to Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco 2019 at the expo, so I wouldn’t lose my legacy status.

View of the bay, and the brdge
While I missed running to the Hopper Hands, I am always up for a cheeseball tourist photo stop along the Bay!

Pro tip: If you are an Active Advantage member–that’s the membership you pay for, not free usage–do NOT buy pre-sale bibs at the race expo. You WILL be charged the Active fees (which you get for free as an Advantage member) and the free tee shirt probably isn’t worth it.

If only the bibs were actually this size, people might follow these instructions!

Pre-Race Expo. San Francisco is an easy town for public transit, and the Uber/Lyft/app-cabs are plentiful. I flew into SFO and took BART to Embarcadero, then walked from the BART station to the Expo out at Pier 35. The weather was lovely, so I didn’t mind a walk, especially after a flight. My expectations were low for this expo; frankly, the expo has sucked since it left the Moscone Center. (Originally I assume the expo moved because Moscone was under construction; no clue what the story is now.)

Bib Pickup: Status Same-Old. Once again, the race did not sell out in advance (as it did the first three years at least) so you could register at the expo. I’m guessing the City of San Francisco granted a permit for 8000. There were only 7000 numbers, and one of my friends who registered at the expo was given number 7575, a little underwhelming. The bibs are the same gigantic papers they have used for years; their enormity has led many to fold them or pin them somewhere other than “completely covering my entire torso,” though at least they now have integrated timing chips AND a station at the expo to test and make sure they work. The race waiver is now two separate waivers, and though they send out like ten pre-race emails about them (“remember to sign your waivers!”) almost no one does–like who even owns a printer? Bib pickup also included an LED light wristband (more on that later).

Rock n Roll trucker hats
Some of the new trucker designs

Race Shirts…Better Design, Cheaper Quality. I really wanted to like this year’s race shirt, especially after the horribly generic shirts that Ironman offered to Rock ‘n’ Roll participants in early 2018. While the design is much better, everything else is worse. First, the shirts came individually wrapped in plastic. This is unnecessary on the consumer end, but may indicate that the shirts have changed country of origin. (Federal law requires fabric goods from some countries be shipped individually wrapped in plastic. When I worked at Macy’s we literally filled a dumpster with plastic bags each time we unloaded a truck.) Second, the shirt quality is cheap. The fabric isn’t pleasant to the touch, and it is rather sheer. Third, there are tags sewn into the collar of the shirt, and they are not the easy-tear-away tags found in most athletic clothing. Fourth, the shirts are sized even smaller than previous years. I always order a women’s XL so that the shirt isn’t too short and isn’t too tight. This year, the women’s XL is both. When I took it out of the bag and flattened it, it wasn’t even shaped–it was a rectangle/box like a man’s shirt. Finally, the design placement is weird and unflattering on every body I saw with a shirt on it. Verdict: unwearable. They could cut costs by offering a tee-shirt-quilt panel instead of a shirt.

Race Bags: Still Plastic, Still Awful. When I first started running Rock ‘n’ Roll races, the bags were durable drawstring bags made of gym bag type fabric. Themed races–Los Angeles/Halloween, Vegas/Strip at Night–had themed bags. The series later changed to cheaper fabric bags that were not as durable–the hard edge of a box might cause a tear–black for every race, no themed bags. Eventually the series switched to plastic bags that tear if you look at them funny (though they are durable enough for a few uses as a post-race laundry bag). Allegedly these are for security, but they are frosted and not sheer, so I don’t believe that’s the real reason. They must have ordered a billion of them. When I have time to plan ahead, I bring an empty one so I don’t have to take yet another plastic bag. The contents are as tired as the bags: sample of shave oil that claims to be the best invention since shaving, sample of Calmoseptine (which I find uncomfortable and stinging, but my friend Andrew uses it so he takes all my samples), discount card for a boxed meal service, discount card for produce delivery. The better way to do this would be to put these items out at a “help yourself” station (where I would take ALL of the Hemp Hearts samples!). Or at least have a space at the expo to dump the stuff we won’t use. It’s such a waste.

Merch: HUGE UPGRADE. Last year the race merch was sparse and poorly designed, and included a rack of what I guess you would call “stuff we found in a warehouse somewhere and ought to try to sell.” The only potentially interesting race-specific merch were the Ironman-style shirts with all of the participants names on them. (Personally, I do not see the appeal, but that’s because the last shirt I had like that was a 1980s elementary school fundraiser.) This year there were several options I liked, and many more that even I can see are a HUGE upgrade: a wall of trucker hats, racks of beanies, shorts, tights, quarter zips, tanks, long-sleeve, short-sleeve, and more. There is also a line of tie-dye themed stuff (socks, knock-off Flip Belt, etc.) to match the Brooks Rock ‘n’ Roll shoes released last year (and the shoes are back). The people working at Brooks weren’t that helpful though, as there was a bra sale and a friend of mine wanted to try a bra on but couldn’t get anyone to help her–at the end of the day, when the expo wasn’t busy.

Expo, Sponsors: Sparse. So other than Brooks and United Airlines (which has its own special medal this year for those doing a race in 2 of the 5 United hub markets), I’m not sure who is left. Toyota is gone, and there is no car company replacement. Geico wasn’t there (though I’ve heard a rumor that Team Geico no longer gets post-race massages anyway). Oh, I guess Michelob Ultra still sponsors the beer, but honestly most runners would rather have a local beer sponsor. United did have a cool photo op with a backdrop, and a pilot and flight attendant (or people dressed like a pilot and flight attendant).

Lombard Street, San Francisco
There are even more stairs up Lombard Street than you can see from the bottom!

Expo, Exhibitors: Improved. Last year, the expo was at least 1/4 and probably more like 1/3 empty tables/booths. I bought nothing (or at least remember nothing beyond how weird it is to have an expo with so many empty spaces). This year I was really thrilled to see a booth by Potatoes USA! In addition to freshly cooked multi-colored creamers to eat, they had a recipe book, stickers, and lip balm. I took advantage of the Pro Compression expo special to buy some of the new spring designs, and tasted the Honey Stinger offerings (though I didn’t buy, since I just stocked up at the Shamrock Run expo). I was glad to see Run Club SF and Marathon Matt, the race pacers. There were also a number of footwear, running gear, and race booths. Verdict: still a small, unimpressive race expo, but MUCH better than last year.

We Run Social Shakeout Run! This year, We Run Social and lululemon Cow Hollow co-sponsored a 5kish shakeout run. We started near the expo, took the obligatory groupies, I handed out RunGum, and the piled up our gear to be Ubered to lululemon. The rest of us took off on a quick run over part of the race course, up Lombard Street–which inexplicably appeared on the 2018 medal, even though no Rock ‘n’ Roll course has ever gone there (but it should!) and then headed over to lululemon. Once there, we had a mini-party! Hostess-with-the-mostess Ashley, founder of Every Runner Counts, greeted us with hint water (which I love!) and snacks, as well as a discount on certain items. I shared RunGum with the other staff working the store to thank them for putting up with us, and there were raffle prizes including We Run Social multi-function headwraps and Pro Compression socks! Afterwards a bunch of us headed to Amici’s to carb up.

Exhaustion sets in! At that point it was maybe 8:30, but I was Done With Saturday. The disadvantage of a fly-in, fly-out race weekend, I suppose. Since the first corral started at 6:15 a.m. I knew the morning would come all too quickly. I slept well.

Rock n Roll corral wristbands were a bummer
Does this look painful to you? Because it is. Hello, I need that blood flow!

About Those Corrals: Do Better. The theory behind the new corral system was very sound (that’s a pun, wait for it…): the City wouldn’t allow amplification (for music, for pre-race announcements, etc.) and, I’m told, didn’t want “crowd noise” outside for an extended period before the race started. The “well, they meant well” solution was to move the pre-corral hanging out portion to inside Pier 35, and use an LED light bracelet system to alert people when it was their turn to line up  outside. Let’s talk about the logistics first. Pier 35 is north of The Embarcadero and has two doors: one to the west, and one to the east. ALL of the readily available parking, and nearly all of the hotels, are to the west of Pier 35. Rather than think that through–or maybe no one on the logistics team was local to San Francisco–the race set up the WEST door as the exit to the corrals. As a result, the massive wave of people I was walking with were stopped before the west door to let the first corral out of Pier 35. Not only could we not reach the entrance (the east door) until the entire corral had passed, but shorter people were elbowing their way up from behind me–hey, it’s not like we were standing around chatting, there were hundreds of people ALL FACING THE SAME DIRECTION who ALL STOPPED AT THE SAME TIME–and pushing people forward even though we could not, in fact, move forward. Hot mess, and uncomfortable, too. Once inside (after the corral left and the crowd got to the east door) the logistics crew bombed again. The tiny “stage” with the pre-race DJ and announcer was WAY in the back and poorly lit. It made total sense to put it in the back, since they wanted to keep everyone from cramming up near the corral exit, but since it was not well lit and tiny, it was difficult to find. It would have made much more sense to build a bigger stage, place it on the west wall (the east wall has a sort of separate room, and the restrooms, so that’s not an option) and throw some real lighting on it. Instead, people heard the sound system up front and stayed up near the corral exit door, creating a traffic jam. Also the pre-race bananas and water were BEHIND the stage–like yards behind it–so most people don’t know they were there. I only knew because someone in my group chat posted that they were all the way at the back.

Brooks inflatable out on the course
The Brooks Dude got a makeover this year. I think he is a gorilla!

Corral Bracelets: FAIL. This year, the race implemented a new corral system copied right from a K-Pop concert: LED light bracelets that can respond to a transmitter and pulse colors with the music. These should have been an excellent crowd management plan, but they were not. Let us count the reasons why:

  1. Runners are stupid. Despite the signs on the wall at registration and the pre-race email that was only about the corrals (okay, maybe people ignored that since Rock ‘n’ Roll sent like 27 other emails about signing waivers), most people had no clue how the system was supposed to work. Thus when it malfunctioned, no one knew how to respond. (Add to this that like many electronic things with batteries, there was a plastic tab you had to remove to contact the battery and make the bracelet active, and many runners did not do that.)
  2. Like I need something else on my arm for the race? If you’re a runner, you probably don’t need to do this, but if you’re not, take a look at Instagram and the runners there. One of the most popular post-run shots is a picture of your running watch (showing the run’s stats). Take a look at enough of them, and you’ll see that many runners have quite the arm-party going on: race watch (mine’s a Coros), Road ID, Momentum wrap(s), regular jewelry, charity rubber band(s), and maybe those temporary paper bracelets (Rock ‘n’ Roll uses them for the Remix weekends, and for pre-race ID to enter the beer garden in states where that’s allowed.) A big fat piece of plastic? Really?
  3. OUCH. The bracelets are NOT adjustable (unlike their K Pop predecessors.) Now I don’t think I have particularly well-developed forearm muscles, but I definitely do not have dainty lady-arms. The bracelets were like the silicone charity bracelets you’ve probably seen (thing Livestrong) but about 40% was attached to the light/battery part, which was hard, inflexible plastic. I put the thing on my wrist and it pinched my skin. Since there was no way to adjust it, and that thing would not stretch, I ended up clipping my Orange Mud pack strap through it. Other runners just ditched theirs (as I saw many runners without them on race day).
  4. SO. MUCH. PLASTIC. WASTE. Since the bracelets have tiny little screws, you can clearly replace the battery. This means they are reusable. I had hoped, pre-expo, that there would be collection bins at the finish line, to re-use or recycle the bracelets. NOPE. Unfortunately, it is cheaper to throw them away than it is to change the batteries. So every runner now has a useless plastic gadget with a battery to dispose of, and you can bet that 0% of runners disassembled the thing to remove the battery for proper disposal. They can’t be recycled in your recycling bin. Between the plastic bags on the shirts, the plastic race bags, and the uninteresting stuff inside the plastic race bags, I just don’t understand why Rock ‘n’ Roll hates the environment so much. HEY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL! DO BETTER!
  5. Ridiculously overcomplicated. Pre-race, the bracelets were supposed to change colors and pulse with the music. (Mine didn’t do that more than twice.) There were 9 corrals, and each corral was assigned a different color. So when the first corral was supposed to head out, their bracelets were supposed to turn red. Only a bunch of them turned blue instead, and blue was assigned to the second corral. So the folks at the exit were trying to turn people back, because the had the wrong bracelet color, but they in fact had corral 1 bibs. I’m still puzzled as to why they didn’t go with the obvious solution. Since the bracelets could be programmed to only respond to some signals–the corral 9 bracelets, for example, did not turn red or  blue or any other solid color when it was time for corral 1 to go–the obvious would have been “when your bracelet lights up solid green, go to your corral.” No need to remember what color your corral was assigned. We all know that green means go. They could have even removed green from the pre-race program, so that no one saw green until it was time to go.
  6. Many dud bracelets. As I was getting pressed uncomfortably forward into the exiting corral 1, waiting to enter Pier 35, my bracelet did nothing. Not one light. The pattern around me seemed random, with some bracelets flashing colors, other with solid colors, still others like mine with no lights at all. Mine didn’t light up at all until I’d been inside for 20 minutes. Then it did a color change maybe twice.
  7. The extras were meh. One of the on course activations–oh right, smart races don’t use that term because only crazy social media people and those in the industry know what an “activation” is–was for the bracelet to turn blue during the Wear Blue: Run to Remember mile that honors those who have died in service to our country. This could have been cool, but by the time we got to that mile it was broad daylight (cloudy, but daylight) so it was barely noticeable. It might have been cool at a night race, like the David Moo-nlight Race or Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas, but during the day it was meh.

Verdict: epic fail. Look, I get that this was a test-drive, and there are bumps and hiccups the first time. I can excuse some of those (at least for the bracelets–I’m sorry, but reversing the Pier 35 openings to west is entrance and east is exist is a total no-brainer), but there was no need to make it so complicated.

Rock n Roll San Francisco bridge shot
Since Karl The Fog was out in full force, I did not need my sunnies–and I did not get sunburned!

Race course: Decent as Usual. People are allegedly drawn to this race to get to run over the Golden Gate Bridge. My understanding is that the City, or bridge authority, or whatever, will no longer issue the race a permit to close down one lane of the bridge; personally, I hate running on the sidewalk and really miss the days when one lane of traffic was closed for runners to go north, and the southbound return was via the sidewalk. At least that way I got to see many more runners I knew, plus it avoided the descent and ascent necessary to pass under the bridge to return south on the west sidewalk. (The current course goes north on the east sidewalk, and south on the west sidewalk, which requires passing under the bridge on the Marin side.) The course is, otherwise, largely an out-and-back; this is an effective way to keep the permitting and costs down, as you have to close (and police/staff) fewer roads. It’s also nice to see Chrissy Field from two perspectives. It would be nice to change up the on-course photo ops–they have used the same few for the past several years–but if the data show that this is largely a “one and done” race (as opposed to one with repeat participants from year to year), then perhaps the expense doesn’t justify it.

Race Course Aid Stations: Well Done. For the first time in my Rock ‘n’ Roll experience, every aid station had what it promised to have. When I got to the gel aid station, there was plenty of gel, and even a selection of flavors. There was plenty of water and gatorade, and the volunteers were actively handing it out. (Some races, the volunteers get bored, and next thing you know you’re hitting an aid station with a bunch of kids on instagram.)

SF hippies
An annual fixture, the “flower children” hand out real flowers, some of which end up gracing the signs at the Wear Blue mile.

Finish Line Experience: Improved, but… This year the finish line had the usual finisher chute and odd little beer garden (part of the street, blocked off to traffic, and fenced in to keep the alcohol police happy) there were two new experiences. One was a stretch zone with yoga mats and straps, sponsored by Smile Direct. They also had wipes to detox the mats after the runners got off of them (because sitting in someone else’s sweat is gross). Inside the beer garden area there was also a recovery zone with those inflatable pressure boots, the thera-gun, vibrating rollers, and more. I didn’t spend much time there, but Briana did, so you can ask her about it. The beer garden also had a “pay to charge your phone” station. It was a nice touch, but the majority of people I know carry a power pack these days. Now, the finish line itself…I finished late in the game, for reasons of my choosing (one, helping someone, two, I really needed that Philz Truck coffee). The course has a 4-hour limit, and like my friend Ashley, I strongly believe that Every Runner Counts. I don’t care if you walked every inch, if you finished, you should be celebrated just like every other finisher. (Several years ago I kicked my butt, hard, to finish Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia, only to find zero food, zero water, zero hydration, zero anything in the finisher chute, despite seeing faster runners walking around with literal boxes of post-race food.) Super mad props to the volunteers handing out medals, the whole flock was still there and ready with medals. I was also happy to see plenty of bottled water (well, not happy it was bottled, but races have limitations) and Gatorade. MAD PROPS to Team Chocolate Milk for still having enough chocolate milk for us slowpokes! I also thought the snacks were good–bananas, Cheez-Its, and Ghirardelli squares with caramel–until I caught up with my faster friends at the beer garden. Some of them had multiple full-sized chocolate bars, not just one, as well as instant hash-browns (which I assume came from Potatoes USA, and they might still be learning). Also, there’s never a good way to carry your post-race snacks and you can’t re-enter the chute to get more once you’ve left. I need to remember to stuff a bag in my race pack.

Overall…I am biased. I started running Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco the very first year, when they had purchased race permits from another company. The original expo was huge, fun, and better than most other races. I’ve seen two good shirts, a few good medals, and lots of runners. Since I’ve run it every year, I’ll keep running it. It’s fun to head back to the Bay Area now that I don’t live there, and since I know so many runners who show up to this race it’s always worth the trip.

Soooo…. If you ran Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco, what did you think of 2019? If you’ve run in the past, but didn’t run this weekend, why not?

Disclosure: I am a member of the Rock ‘n’ Blog Team. Science in Sport provided members of the team with a sampler box of gels, but I had already placed an order–and accidentally ordered two boxes!–so I have two boxes to give away. Neither this post nor the giveaway are sponsored. All opinions are my own.

The biggest sale of the 2019 Rock ‘n’ Roll season is on NOW!

It ends at midnight, PST, December 13. Not only are these the best prices you will see all year, TourPass now comes in three options (3 pack, 10 pack, and unlimited), has tiered pricing (the sooner you buy, the less you will pay), and has a payment plan option. Plus there are new perks for TourPass holders. In addition, the first six of the designs for the new Heavy Medals have been announced. If you’re planning to run any Rock ‘n’ Roll races in 2019, NOW is the time to sign up.

Group photo at San Diego
The crew at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego 2018

As you know (and have likely heard unless you don’t know any other runners), 2018 was a rough year for the Rock ‘n’ Roll series. Following acquisition by IronMan (which in turn is owned by a Chinese holding company), the San Diego area Rock ‘n’ Roll office was essentially eliminated, some staff roles were combined, and some personnel relocated to the Ironman offices in Tampa. Since Ironman has been putting on quality triathlons—much more complicated as there is a cycling and swim component in addition to a road race—I was initially optimistic about 2018. Ironman promised to bring Rock ‘n’ Roll back to its roots and focus on “the on-course experience,” touting improvements to courses, entertainment, and more. Unfortunately the organization’s hype inflated everyone’s expectations, and frequently failed to deliver the goods. (A laundry list of the problems would take multiple blog posts.) As a member of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team, most of the year I had no idea what was going on, or only received information when it was too late to do anything with it, a symptom of the larger problem of poor internal communication and rampant disorganization. Worse, Ironman irritated the most dedicated group of natural series ambassadors, those who run enough marathons and half marathons to qualify for the Hall of Fame (15 races) by eliminating the unlimited TourPass  option, cancelling the marathon finisher jackets, and pumping out generic event shirts.

Photo stop at Rock n Roll Seattle
Clowning around at a photo station at Rock n Roll Seattle 2018

Mid-way through the season, Ironman made some attempts at course-correction, including improved, location-specific finisher medals and event shirts cute enough to actually wear again. After what I assume were some internal personnel shuffles and new hires, Ironman started to reach out to Rock ‘n’ Roll’s legacy runners, and get to work addressing other areas of runner feedback.

While Dallas, Raleigh, Carlsbad, and Los Angeles are no longer Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour Stops (and I still personally mourn the cancellation of Portland and Vancouver), it’s likely the series will continue to expand into the international market. Predictably, the series added a number of races in China in 2018, but also added races in Mexico and South America. I don’t have any inside scoop on this but I’m betting there will be new races added in 2019. If you’re interested in hopping a flight to China, the TourPass Unlimited may be your best option.

Yesterday’s announcement of the new TourPass options is a great indicator that the Ironman team is “getting it.” The return of the TourPass unlimited means more runners will Remix the weekends, running a 5k or 10k in addition to the full or half marathon. The difference between a 10-pack and the Unlimited is $300, so a runner planning to hit 10 Tour Stops is essentially getting each of the 5k/10k races at $30 each, a significant savings over individual event pricing.

Next year, I’m running San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle. (I just announced I’m training for the Chicago Marathon, in addition ton conquering the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon, so I’m kinda booked for 2019. Look for me holding a TourPass Unlimited in 2020!)

Important Tips for Planning your 2019 Tour!

The BEST price on all TourPasses is ONLY available on December 13, 2018. If you wait until December 14, you will pay an additional $50 for the 10-pack and the Unlimited. Wait until January and the price will rise again–and this year, the TourPass has a deadline to purchase. Get in early, or miss out.

The BEST price on all of the races is available on December 13, 2018. The Rock ‘n’ Roll series uses a tiered pricing model, where the price goes up the closer it gets to the race. Typically the very best price is offered at the expo for the race (e.g. I signed up for San Francisco 2019 at the expo earlier this year), and then registration is closed for a short time, after which the prices go up. Many of these races have already gone to higher-tiered pricing, and if you wait until after the sale you will have to pay the higher price.

Missed the sale? Register NOW to save yourself from the next price increases.

Got questions about the races? Fire away! I’ve run Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Arizona, Philadelphia, Chicago, Virginia Beach, Las Vegas, San Antonio, and more. If I don’t know the answer, I can help you find it.

Bain drinks chocolate milk
Pro Tip: finish your race with chocolate milk!

Registration for the Heavy Medals Program—bonus bling you earn for running more than one Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon or half marathon during the year—is FREE but is NOT AUTOMATIC. You MUST register separately for the Heavy Medals Program, even if you buy a TourPass.

Train with what’s on the course! Race day is not the time to find out your tummy doesn’t like the gels or electrolytes on course. To that end, why not enter to win a sampler box of Science in Sport, the official gel of the Rock ‘n’ Roll series?

Giveaway!

Prizes: I have two sampler boxes to give away, and each winner will also score some stocking-stuffer treats.

Rules: Open only to U.S. mailing addresses. (This is because postage is expensive, and because some countries have picky rules about what kind of food and nutritional supplements you are allowed to send in by mail.) Entries will be verified, so please follow the directions. Winners will be notified by email and be required to respond and provide a mailing address to receive their prizes. Failure to respond in the specified time will forfeit the prize.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

MARK your calendar NOW! October 3-6, 2019!

Have you run an inaugural race? Many runners I know have a fear of inaugural races, and that fear is not an unfounded one: I’ve heard horror stories about pretty much every aspect of a race that was accidentally neglected the first year. I’ve been lucky so far, with the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco, Revel Mt. Charleston, Livermore Half Marathon, and several others under my belt, all of which ran smoothly. The Race? It didn’t just run smoothly, it exceeded all of my expectations as a race—and as an added bonus, I got to pace the 3:30 half marathon!

I Ran The Race! 

One of the Mile Markers

If you missed my pre-race post about The Race, I jumped on board the Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign early. (It wasn’t exactly blind faith, as my friend Jessica knew the race director and key staff and confidently told me they were rock stars who would completely nail it.) Once she offered to let me crash at her pad, I sealed the deal and signed up for VIP. Unfortunately I missed the VIP weekend kick-off party—I do have a “day job” that actually wants me to show up—but from what I saw Thursday night was a lot of fun!

I flew into Atlanta on Friday and landed with enough time to check out the expo, figure out what time it was, eat dinner, and crash. As we walked into the expo, the area where a long line would have waited (if there had been a long line) featured the mile markers: individually painted works of art!

The Expo

Aren’t these cute? How amazing is it that I didn’t buy any?

Packet pickup was fast and easy. There was no line, and it would have taken two minutes to pick up my packet and shirt but Jessica seems to know everyone in the Atlanta running community, so packet pickup was just the first in a series of welcomes and meeting new friends. We also had a good laugh about how Atlanta-area runners had the “Who’s On First?” experience the prior week. (“Are you running this weekend?” “Yes! I’m running The Race!” “Which race?” “The Race!” “Yes, I know you’re racing, but which race?”) VIP included a wristband for the race-day festivities as well as a sweet inaugural backer patch that I sewed onto my jacket. Yes, I know, I “need” another running jacket like I “need” a PhD in astrophysics, but my spidey senses told me I wanted to snag one while the full range of sizes was still available and besides they were so cute. Several weeks later, I’m glad I did—not only did The Race rock, the jacket is perfect for fall weather in Portland. (No surprise, since Leslie Jordan, the jacket manufacturer, is based in Portland.)

Inaugural gear for The Race 2018

The expo was better than most of the race expos I have been to this year. I wasn’t there for the whole thing since I flew in Friday afternoon and I’m still certain it was one of the top expos I’ve been to in the past five years (during which I have run dozens of races). The stage had a series of panels featuring runners and running, with DJ sets in between. The lighting and music permeated the expo and gave it a dance party feel. As promised, the expo featured primarily local, Black-owned businesses–24 of them, to be exact. There were soaps and gorgeously scented bath products by Livy & Sophie, and fabric and fashions by Cam Swank, for example.

Local vendors at the inaugural expo:
Run Social Atlanta
Westview Corner Grocery
Chef Levy
D Café & catering
iwi fresh
Angie O’Neal Designs
Charm City Noir
RocketSports-1
WJR club
Buy From a Black Woman
Wyatt Family Dental
Urb’n Charm Jewelry
The Village Market
Vital Life Chiropractic
Run Host
Natural Fit Designs
Livy & Sofie’s Natural Body Elements
Reggae Runnerz
South Fulton Running Partner
Eco Sneakers
Cam Swank
Yelani
WhitePaws RunMitts
P.S. Beads

There was also a selection of limited edition, inaugural race merch. While I love my boco hats and am a sucker for socks, I successfully managed to purchase only The Race jacket. Gotta leave something for next year, right?

Did I mention I signed up to pace?

The Race Legacy Pace Team for 3:30

A few weeks before The Race, the organizers put out a call for pacers. Since I’m something of a slowpoke, I was really excited to see a 3:30 pacer slot (the course had a 4 hour limit). Of course I volunteered, figuring that I could do a 3:30 without any difficulty. Without consulting the actual race course itself. My co-pacer and I spent the remaining weeks wondering whether the Atlanta hills were as bad as our friends who previewed the course said they were, and whether she would be okay pacing just a week after the Chicago marathon. We talked about using intervals, which we both agreed would be key to managing a slower pace while still eating hills for breakfast. I stopped by the pacer booth at the expo to make sure I understood the race day details and got some insight into the course and its many hills from the locals. I left with a red legacy pacer singlet, and renewed worries that I might just be in over my head, but remained committed to kick as much ass as I could.

Carb-fest and Pre-Race

We grabbed dinner at a local pizza and pasta place called Little Azio, where I carbed it up with some pasta, and then topped it off with ice cream from Morelli’s Gourmet Ice Cream (salted caramel and dark chocolate chili). I’m no stranger to good quality ice cream—Portland is home to Salt & Straw—but oh boy was that tasty. We turned in early and I crashed like a rock, exhausted from travel and nervously anticipating The Race.

Jessica and I got up early in order to make it to the parking lot and get settled. (I’m glad we did, as a sufficiently large number of people did not, and the last-minute traffic was heavy.) As VIPs, we had access to the warmer inside, as well as the coveted flush toilets. Since we were parked in the lot nearby, we didn’t make use of the gear check, but there was plenty of gear check room: Tate the Great MMoving provided a truck for general gear check, while the VIP area had its own area. Then we headed down to the astroturf area in front of the stage for a warm-up with ___. It was a great way to get moving, and the women from ___ did not blink an eye when the power went out temporarily, cutting their mics—the only “problem” I saw all weekend. Without missing a beat they hopped down onto the grass and finished the workout with us with as much enthusiasm as they’d had when backed by a DJ.

Who Ran The Race?

As a so-white-I-put-on-sunblock-before-the-sun-came-up runner, I was thrilled to be in the minority at The Race. The vision of The Race was awesome and I really, really wanted it to happen exactly like that, not so much for me, or even for the organizers and Atlanta, but for the running community as a whole. (The 1,411 participants were 86% African American, according to The Race’s instagram.) I believe it is important for the running community to not just include anyone who wants to run—regardless of skin tone, regardless of the choice to wear a hijab or a yarmulke—but to create a space where runners are actively welcome, not just the tokens or the Kenyans or the future Black Olympians. (As a side note, I also personally believe it is very important for those who are perceived to be in the American “majority”—which I’ll broad-brushstroke as white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, probably Christian—to have real experience of what it is like to be the minority. There’s just no substitute for experience.)

After hopping by the pacer tent to pick up the 3:30 stick and snap some photos, it was time for the runners to head into the corrals. I was starting to get worried as I hadn’t seen Felicia yet. Runners were divided into three waves: red, green, and black, the colors of the flag of African unity. VIP runners had the option to start in any corral. A full-on drum line marched us into the corrals and they were spectacular! (I took pictures, but the sun wasn’t up yet and the pictures are blurry.) They continued to perform, lining the lead corral on both sides, until it was time for the final pre-race moments.

As the 3:30 pacer, I headed to the back, crossing my fingers and hoping Felicia, who was caught in the later traffic from the host hotel, would make it on time. Immediately I had a bunch of people start asking questions about pacing strategy, and I am quite glad I’d thought this one through. In order to cross in 3:30, we needed to average 16:00/mile. I knew I could do that easily on flattish land running intervals of 2:1 (walk:run) but also knew there were significant hills in two locations, one early in the course, and a few after mile 10, followed by a whopper at mile 12. My plan was to take as many of the early miles as possible at 15:00 in order to bank time for the killer hill at mile 12.  ___ arrived just before the start, and suddenly we were off and running with participants from 34 states.

My First Pace Gig…HILLS FOR BREAKFAST!

Bain Discovers “Rummy Bears”

I’ve been the completely unprepared runner in the back completely relying on the pacer to pull my butt over the finish line. (Thank you, Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles 2013 pace team, with extra mad props to the 3:00 pacer.) As a result, I took my pacing responsibilities VERY seriously. While I wanted to keep as many runners as possible for as long as possible, I also absolutely had to cross the finish line at or before our assigned time—even if no one was with me—because that is what I promised to do. There weren’t a lot of selfies for me at this race, as I alternated between looking around (I’d never been to Atlanta, and it is unlikely I’d stroll through these parts of town as a tourist), looking at my watch, and calling out words of encouragement in between RUN! WALK! and count-downs to switch from one to the other.

Early in the game, Team 3:30 resorted to my first rule of running (“Bain does not run UP hills”) and it’s corollary (“Running downhill with control is an excellent way to find ‘extra’ time”). This kept us almost perfectly on pace at 15:00/mile until almost mile 10. Not knowing exactly how bad the “bad hill” at mile 12 was kept me nervous, but I still had to take care of the people who were relying on us, so I continued to joke around and shout encouragement to the group that had clustered around us. By mile 5 I’m pretty sure I had annoyed the snot out of one group of runners (seriously, I’ve never been that perky that early in the morning!) and was pleasantly surprised that a few had passed us. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is still my best running strategy, followed closely by “if you feel like you’re going to die, find someone who needs your help and focus on getting them to the finish.” By mile 8 I imagine we were the mid-point of the group that had started with us, but we were still nailing 15:00/mile. The aid stations had plenty of staff, serving up water and RED Gatorade. (I have no idea why every race uses yellow, it’s nasty.) I had a bottle of Tailwind in my Orange Mud vest, but gladly accepted some Gatorade at a few points when I knew I needed it.

The hills towards the end were hilly, but not *that* bad…until mile 12. While it wasn’t one of the hills at the Tiburon Half—hills so steep that I literally stopped and laughed when I arrived at the first one!—it was a steep, serious hill. I’m not going to lie, I trudged that one. Felicia and I had made a pact that I’d keep the pace, no matter what, and when we hit that hill her legs—remember she had JUST run the Chicago Marathon not a full week before—started giving her some serious sass. As I trudged I kept my eye on my watch, listening to my own legs squawk and doing bad runner-brain math, convinced I’d blown it until I hit the top of the hill and the last .1 when I realized if I could pull just a little bit more out of my legs I could probably make that 3:30. By that point I was solo, our entire group having already finished or fallen further behind. I sucked it up and attempted a sprint—which looked much more like a jog!—across the finish line.

The Race Legacy Pace Team 3:30 nails it

3:30:5x. BOOM. (Though I didn’t hit “stop” on my watch fast enough, and spent the post-race period thinking I missed it by 0:01:00.)

A Fantastic Finish!

I accepted my medal and then ran back across the finish line to run-in ___, barely a minute or two behind me. The momentary pause in the action gave me the opportunity to meet the race director for The Race, who I’d previously only “met” via the Facebook group for The Race ambassadors.

The sun was shining, the weather was gorgeous, and there was a full-on party! The DJ held court from the stage, with runners sunning themselves and stretching on the faux-grass. Several of the vendors from the expo were in attendance, and there were food trucks and the usual post-race snackage occurring.

The VIP area was delightful and worth every penny. In addition to access to interior seating (and the flushing toilets), VIP had its own food truck! I can’t remember what all of the choices were, but even as a vegetarian I thought the food smelled spectacular. (I enjoyed two vegan tacos so good I licked all the bits that fell off out of the cardboard food boat. If you need a caterer in Atlanta, you seriously should look into ___.) There were also big washtubs of beverages, both beer (I don’t remember what kind—sorry, I don’t drink beer) and La Croix (which I jokingly said was selected to make us white suburbanites feel comfortable). In addition to tables with plenty of seating, the VIP area also had a massage station (first-come, first-served) and plenty of socializing. Even though I’m not from Atlanta, and even though my only Atlanta-friend there was Jessica, I felt really welcome and included. Everyone I met was friendly and kind, which was just icing on the cake after loving The Race itself.

Charitable Impact

While I was exhausted and slept a fairly unreasonable amount both Saturday and Sunday, part of the goal of The Race was to make a positive impact on the historically black areas of Atlanta and the black running community. Money from every registration went to charitable donations, for more than $9,200 donated! The Race supported more than a dozen charities, including:

✓Carrie Steele-Pitts Home
✓ L.I.F.T Organization
✓ Westside Future Fund
✓ A Better Way Ministries
✓ Sylvan Hills Neighborhood
✓ Adair Park Neighborhood
✓ Girls on The Run Atlanta
✓ Metro Atlanta Cycling Club
✓ HBCU Scholarship Fund
✓ Kilometer Kids
✓ Grady High School
✓ Boy Scouts of Atlanta
✓ Stone Mountain High School
✓ TechBridge

Sunday, there were 16 different community impact projects, with runners and others donating more than 600 hours of volunteer service. (The Race itself had 275 volunteers in addition to the runners.)

What About Next Year?

Did I mention there were FREE race photos? And that they were available online the evening of The Race? Yup, it was THAT good.

It’s pretty rare that I don’t have at least a few suggestions to make about any race, and The Race is no different. The only suggestions I have, however, are pretty minor. One, I would love to see shuttles from the host hotel to the start/finish since so many out-of-towners stayed there. This would alleviate the pressure on traffic and parking, in addition to being easier for those unfamiliar with the area. Two, the race course could have used some porta-potties. I never needed one, so I was never looking for one, though I did see a few runners dashing out of gas stations (where I assume they made use of the facilities). Third, the mile markers could use a slightly more sophisticated set-up. (They were taped to sticks that stood up in traffic cones.) That’s it. Those are my only “complaints.” I loved everything else, from the course (even the hills), to the graphic design on the shirts and gear, to the atmosphere, to the free race photos (yup, free!).

The Race weekend continued on Sunday with community service projects and a post-race block party. Despite the compression socks, my legs just would not get me out of bed that morning so our day had a slow start and I missed the service projects. The remainder of my time in Atlanta was spent celebrating Pride with brunch and a killer view of the parade, before jaunting off to the airport. I understand the block party was a blast, though my legs were glad to be sitting most of Sunday.

In short, The Race rocked. If the inaugural was this good, I can’t wait to see what the Second Annual looks like!

Registration Opens on Black Friday! Stay tuned to www.theraceuc.com for more information, or follow The Race on instagram.

Another Mile Marker from The Race: Sign Up for 2019 on Black Friday!

 

Disclosure: I am one of the volunteer ambassadors for The Race. By backing The Race on Kickstarter, I joined The Unity Collective, nearly 600 individuals and groups strong. It’s not too late to register! Join me in Atlanta on October 13, 2018. Here’s the link to register: The Race. Want to learn more? Here’s the event website: The Race.

The Race is a collaboration of running community leaders, vendors, and supporters united to host a road race that supports black owned businesses, runs through historically black neighborhoods, makes a positive impact with charity and service, and garners massive national support from the African-American running community and beyond. –The Unity Collective

Look who else supports The Race! Come join us! All the cool kids will be there.

After I started running races, I looked around and realized that the runners around me did not reflect the population at large in any area where I lived or ran. Despite all the joking among slower runners that “in my dreams, I’m Kenyan,” overwhelmingly, the runners looked a lot like me (average white girl from the ‘burbs). Running is supposed to be a relatively simple sport with low barriers to entry (really, you just need running shoes and some clothes–and they don’t have to be expensive), so…what’s up? As co-host of The Runner of a Certain Age podcast, I invited all kinds of runners as guests. Aside from being friendly to everyone I meet at an event, and encouraging everyone who wants to try it to come out and run, I was a little stumped at what I could do.

At the same time, I observed that it wasn’t just the runners that were overwhelmingly white. The race directors, businesses at race expos, and even the places where the races took place…but what can I do beyond offer a friendly smile or word of encouragement to the runners in front of me?

Enter: The Race

Before I get to my story and the story of The Race, what are you doing on September 29th? The Race has FULL course preview events that day, and since I can’t be there (West Coast here), YOU should go and tell me all about it. RSVP on the event page on Facebook. Oh and while you’re at it, why not make friends with The Race over on Instagram?

My friend Jessica, who I met as a BibRave Pro, lives in Atlanta and she turned me on to this new event. If you’ve ever been a race director or an event director, you know that start-up costs can kill an event before it even starts. The Race had a really successful campaign on Kickstarter, to ensure the initial costs like printing PR stuff and paying for permit fees could be paid even before companies and organizations stepped in to sponsor.

TMo and Erica repping The Race, courtesy of The Race

The Race is a brand new event under the direction of experienced race directors Tes Sobomehin Marshall and Da’Rel Patterson. (Check out their interview on YouTube!) While Atlanta has a lot of road races, this one is focused on running historically black neighborhoods. This means that lots of people who don’t usually see a race going past their home or business are going to see runners–and seeing runners in your world, many of whom look like you, might just inspire you to give it a try. Sylvan Hills was originally deeded as a white-only neighborhood; Adair Park dates back to the 1870s and has a rich railway history; Castleberry Park is a national historic arts district; Atlanta’s Student Movement Boulevard played an important role in the Civil Rights movement; Joseph E. Lowery Blvd. is named for one of the icons of Atlanta’s Civil Rights movement as are Dean Rusk Park and the Dean Rusk YMCA. Check out the full half marathon course map!

There is a 5k option and in addition to the half marathon, just in case you’re not quite up for a half marthon yet (maybe 2o19?). The half marathon has pacers all the way down to 3:30!

There are only 2500 entries total available this year, and 600 VIP experiences. I’d love to see The Race sell out, but I can only run it once–so you should go register to join me!

Why join The Race?

For starters, it’s an inaugural race. Yup, LEGACY BRAGGING RIGHTS–you can say you were there first! (How cool will that sound in 2028?!?) Beyond that, the mission statement above is awesome. This is a race that runs through a a part of historically black Atlanta that is ignored by other running events, and is designed to include runners who may feel alone or unwelcome at other events. The whole weekend will be a celebration of inclusion and the black history and present of Atlanta. Finally, The Race is on Saturday, with a community service project on Sunday. This is an opportunity for every runner to give their time to improve the world around this event.

If you are a black runner, this is an opportunity to see many more runners that look like you than you’ll find at, say, any given running event in Portland, Oregon or Alameda County, California (the places I have run most). If you’re a person-of-super-white color like me, this is an opportunity to be an ally and help a black community event be successful and thrive. Look, I do as much foot-in-mouth-hey-I’m-TRYING as the next white girl who grew up in the suburbs. Here’s a chance to listen, learn, and help create a legacy race for black Atlanta.

Oh, and The Race’s friends at Lululemon made a video about the why!

What’s going on during The Race weekend?

Join Ndegwa from DC, and runners from across the country at The Race in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of The Race.

The Race weekend starts on Thursday with a Welcome Night and VIP Event. Some VIPs backed the vent on Kickstarter, while others paid a little extra for a VIP experience over the event weekend.

On Friday, October 12th, The Race’s Expo, Packet Pick-Up, and Meet & Greet takes place at Impact Event Center (2323 Sylvan Road East Point, GA 30344), 11:00am to 7:00pm. Every Expo needs volunteers, so if you’re free please volunteer via the event website. Even if you can’t volunteer, stop by the Expo after work to check out what’s building in the black running community in Atlanta and beyond!

The Race, the main event, is on Saturday, October 13th: The Race Half Marathon 2018 Legacy & 5K. The race will start at Impact Event Center (2323 Sylvan Road East Point, GA 30344), with the half marathon kicking off at 7:00am, and the 5K beginning at 7:15am. The official pace team covers every pace from 1:45 (hello, speed demons!) to 3:30 (finish with pride and strength!). I can only assume that the finish line of The Race will include massive celebration of a successful inaugural event. See you there?

The Race doesn’t end with a road race but continues on Sunday, October 14th when runners and supporters join the Community Impact Service Project, time(s) and location(s) TBD. Finally, the weekend concludes with the Celebrate Atlanta Block Party on Sunday night!

Mad Props To…

…The Unity Collective and all of the generous sponsors of The Race. (I’ll give them instagram-love all race weekend, of course!)

See You There?

Register today–there really are a limited number of spots. Fast, slow, or in between, there’s a spot in The Race for YOU.

Not ready to run? Seriously, come volunteer! Check out the open positions on Active.com’s event page.

A race that starts literally blocks from my apartment? Count me in!

This is the first year I ran the Rip City Race for the Roses, benefiting Albertina Kerr. If you are not from Portland, you might not be familiar with Albertina Kerr, which has been a force for good in Portland since 1907. In short, Albertina Kerr empowers people with intel​lectual and developmental disabilities, mental health challenges, and other social barriers to lead self-determined lives and reach their full potential. 100% of the profits from Rip City Race for the Roses go to Albertina Kerr–everything is covered by sponsors.

I registered for the race pretty late, at the expo for the Shamrock Run Portland. (Yeah, I know, I haven’t written about that one yet…but the expo was great!) If you register early, like right now, you can get the very best price for 2019. I don’t remember what I paid, but I registered at the last pricing tier and while it was more than I usually pay for a 10k, I knew all of the money was going to Albertina Kerr so I didn’t really care. This year, the race included a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and kids’ race. Since I was supposed to run Revel Mt. Charleston on Saturday, I opted for the 10k race.

Foot Traffic on Fremont hosted the packet pickup, which was a breeze. Volunteers had printed lists of names and bib numbers. After picking up my bib and declining the matched set of four safety pins (yay, Racedots!), I walked inside the store to get my shirt, which came with a lunch-bag-sized reusable bag (courtesy of Charles Schwab). Runners could pick up on Friday or Saturday, and when I went on Saturday there was no lines and it was very chill. Foot Traffic offered 10% off any regular priced merchandise for runners, which was a great deal–they have several Portland-specific running designs in stock, in addition to the full range of shoes and clothes and accessories and fuel you would expect from a technical running store. I noticed Foot Traffic carries designs (and the book!) by Another Mother Runner and while I’m not a mother myself, I know plenty of mothers who love to run.

I have to say, the race shirt is fantastic. While it isn’t a tech shirt, I honestly have scores of those and only wear them when I’m planning to sweat. The super soft grey shirt features a red print that looks like a runner and a rose, without any words, text, or other logos on the front. (All of the race sponsors are on the back.) In other words, it doesn’t scream I AM A RACE SHIRT!!! like so many race shirts do. I’m certain I will be wearing it on a regular basis.

pink roses from the finish lineThis year, the start and finish were in the plaza between the Moda Center (home of the Portland Trailblazers, or the basketball arena formerly known as The Rose Garden, much to the confusion of many a tourist trying to look at fancy flowers) and the home of the Portland Winterhawks. This was a great location to start a running event, convenient to public transit (MAX has a dedicated stop, and multiple buses stop nearby). It’s also just over two blocks away from my apartment, essentially allowing me to bedroll to the race. Seriously, I saw the first race started at 7:50 and I didn’t even get out of bed until 7:00.

Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of pictures, as my iPhone 6 has a battery that drains faster than a perfectly clear stand pipe and I knew I’d be running Vi (not an affiliate link, but check my discounts page!) and Rock My Run on it during the race. The start/finish area featured a cute Rip City photo op; DJ; stage; booths for packet pickup, kids’ bib decorating, and some of the sponsors; two coffee trucks; a shaved ice truck (or as we called it in Michigan, a sno cone truck); finisher food and drink zone; and more. There wasn’t a line to pick up bibs, and there was a bag check area as well. Shortly after I arrived, I ran into my friend Holly, and we chatted until she had to leave to go walk the half marathon.

All of the courses were an out-and-back, and shared the same start and finish. From the Rose Garden, I mean Moda Center, area…we all ran a bit on the NE streets and then over the Broadway Bridge. Turning onto Hoyt, all of the courses ran through the Pearl District–which has changed SO MUCH during the 2008-2017 time period I wasn’t in Portland–the Northwest, and the Northwest Industrial areas. At the 5k turnaround, the 10k and half continued onward, and at the 10k turnaround the half marathon continued. I suppose some could argue it wasn’t a spectacularly scenic course, but I personally loved running through the ever-evolving urban Portland landscape. Along the course, volunteers manned aid stations that served runners both coming and going, and multiple areas had cheering squads (including one where the young women cheering must have been cheerleaders or Rockettes, since nobody can kick that high).

An announcer greeted everyone crossing the finish line (or at least by the time I finished my run-walk, the finishers were sparse enough that we were all greeted), and the Royal Rosarians and Albertina Kerr clients handed out medals and high-fives. Each finisher also received a rose. I walked over to the finisher zone; greeted by two brand ambassadors for Red Bull I happily accepted a sugar-free Red Bull on my way to the ID check for the mimosas. The finisher food buffet included bananas, oranges, Clif Bar protein bars, bagels, bread, peanut butter, cream cheese, granola, and bottled water. There were a few other things too, but I didn’t eat them so they are slipping my mind.

As I was noshing on my post-race snacks and sipping my mimosas, I had the great fortune to sit next to one of the Albertina Kerr race organizers. (This is my secret super hero talent: accidentally finding the most interesting people at the party.) I learned that my evaluation of Portland as somewhat hostile to to races is correct; from one year to the next, the cost to host this race–again, a fundraiser where all the proceeds go to charity non-profit Albertina Kerr–went up by a factor of ten. I don’t mean it cost $10 more, or even $10,000 more, but it cost 10x what they had been paying to hold the race. For any race, that’s terrifying. They had to raise the entry fee a bit, and scramble for sponsors to cover the cost of the event–one of Albertina Kerr’s major fund raisers.

The post-race eats were pretty fantastic. In addition to the mimosas, orange juice, bagels, and peanut butter, there were a variety of other snackables. It was nice enough to stand or sit around outside (minus the mimosas, thanks OLCC), but the tent also had plenty of room for runners to sit down and take a load off after the race.

Next year’s Rip City Race for the Roses is April 28, 2019. Learn more, and sign up at the website.

…Only It’s Not ALL Downhill!

When I say, “this race was tough for me,” what I mean is, “after I ate lunch, walked home from the hotel where the bus dropped off, and showered, I slept for 20 hours.” So I knew I wasn’t “trained up” for this race, but I figured since it was a Revel, it would be a lot like the Revel Mt. Charleston half marathon–all downhill. Um, nope. There were three pretty significant hills including a nasty climb up to mile 10. (Yeah, yeah, that’s what I get for relying on an infographic instead of looking at the actual course elevation profile.) I’m sure the additional elevation, particulate matter drifting from the wildfires (confirmed via the weather report), and total lack of sleep didn’t help. Some idiot in my apartment building saw fit to pull two alarms Thursday night after midnight, and in order to get to the shuttle to the starting line–which thankfully was just three blocks from my apartment–I had to get up at 2 a.m. to get dressed. That’s Disney early!

When I heard Revel was going to have a race on Mt. Hood, I signed up immediately. (This was at the expo for the Shamrock Run, back in March.) I had great experiences with Revel Mt. Charleston–and I ran the inaugural there, too–so a race in my backyard, ish, was a no-brainer. I’m NOT an early-morning person, and the bus ride turned out to be on a school  bus, but I was super glad the race started at 5:30 since Oregon is currently on fire and hot as hell.

Bling from Revel Mt. Hood!

Doing the Expo Early

Revel Mt. Hood‘s expo was in the Oregon Convention Center. (In a “aw, bless your heart,

These are NOT “flip-flops.” I am in love, a total convert, and trust me you need a pair.

you’re not from here” kind of way, this and the hotel from which the shuttle left were called “downtown” Portland in the promo materials.) The only thing wrong with the expo is that there was no signage on the MAX side, leaving the majority of us to either wander through all the halls and discover the Revel expo wasn’t in the same hall as the other race expos. Oh, and it was HOT inside, but I blame facilities for that, not Revel. The expo was small, which I think is the norm for Revel. Since I live two blocks away, I went to the expo right at 10 when it opened, to avoid the post-work crowds. No waiting for my shirt and bib, and the volunteers even put the bag-tag on the gear bag for us! I didn’t like the shade of purple on the women’s shirts as much as I thought I would, so I swapped mine out for a men’s shirt. Easy-peasy.

This year Revel partnered with Headsweats, and all runners scored a Headsweats cap with the Revel logo. Headsweats does a great job of drying out quickly, which is cooling (added benefit). A lot of my friends wear their visors, but since I’m two shades lighter than Caspar that would result in a burned scalp. Their stuff is great though, and I had no hesitation about wearing my new Headsweats Revel cap to the race (despite that “nothing new on race day” mantra). Super stoked to see this as a partnership, and I hope it continues into the future.

Per usual, the Revel swag bag included a heat sheet (because it’s THAT cold at the start) and a pair of gloves (really!); a G2G Protein bar; coupons for Papa John’s (the post-race pizza sponsor), Surf Butta, and LA fitness; and samples of Replaces SR (sustained release electrolyte tablets) and doTerra Deep Blue.

Walk over the timing mats on the ground, check the screen to see if your bib works. Smart set-up!

The partnership with doTerra? Ugh. WHY? Yes, THAT doTerra, the essential oil multi-level-marketing company. You know, the one that claims only doTerra has “therapeutic grade oils” (a term they made up that is not subject to any third party overview), the same one that was smacked by the FDA because they had “wellness advocates” making claims about the use for their essential oils that are not backed by the required factual evidence? Yes, that one. Listen, I like nice-smelling things as much as the next person, but I would rather have seen BioFreeze on the course instead of Deep Blue and no essential oils at the expo. Also, neither doTerra nor Revel warned that Deep Blue has almond oil in it–potentially very dangerous for those with nut allergies. Please, Revel, drop doTerra and stay away from MLM companies.

The expo, otherwise, had some cool stuff. There was a timing line to check that your timing chip worked, small Revel merch store (but none of the Scott James jewelry, boo), a temporary tattoo station, a big ol’ display of oofos (hooray!), and some running-related stuff. Since the course rules prohibited in-ear headphones, Aftershokz had a display. In case you missed it, I’m pretty much in love with mine. I got to try on the new Trekz Air model is SO LIGHT! The piece that connects the two side is much springier and thinner, too. I didn’t buy another pair (SO TEMPTED!) but only because I already have a pair of Trekz Titanium and I’m trying to be financially responsible.

Trekz Titanium are great, but these Trekz Air are like half the size and weight, and sturdy too!

I got to play with the MyoStorm Meteor production model, and I think it’s going to be pretty cool. It’s a vibrating, heating massage ball that can hit all sorts of spots your foam roller cannot. It’s just under 4″, and will be great for feet and hands, too. Sound intriguing? Sign up to learn when their KickStarter goes live using this link (which is an affiliate link). It reminded me of my TP Therapy Grid Vibe having a baby with the TP Therapy MB5 Massage Ball.

Myostorm brings heat, vibration, all wrapped up in a hand-held SMFR tool

Another thing that might be of interest to my peeps: a line of athletic supplements for keto athletes. It’s called Metcon. I’m not keto, but this intrigues me; because if you’re on a keto eating plan, but then bomb your body with carbs during a race or other event, of course your stomach is going to feel like crap. (Just like if you normally eat carbs and then suddenly stop and try to run a race.) Dan, the founder, was there at the expo to answer questions.  The Metcon line has four products: Start, Power, L Carn, and Keto-Rx. The Keto-Rx product is the fuel. It has BHB salts, and MCT oil is the main fuel source. Mixed with water, it’s a cloudy white color (no added colorands or other useless ingredients in this stuff). The advertised flavor is “natural strawberry,” but I thought it tasted more like a light coconut. It’s not overly sweet–to stay keto and paleo friendly, it is sweetened with stevia, not sugar–but it had a pleasant, slightly sweet taste. If I were a keto or paleo athlete, I would definitely use this. The products are made in the USA, gluten free, and free of banned substances (this last bit definitely matters to competitive athletes who are subject to drug testing, but from a quality standpoint, it should matter to you, too–unless you don’t want to know what’s in your supplements).

On the way out of the expo there was a photo booth, and two background pictures, with a bevy of props and signs. Oh! I almost forgot. The expo also had a checklist in the app, where you had to get a code from each of the sponsor vendors. All who finished the list were entered to win prizes!

Riding Clue-Free Sleep-Free Bus

When you’ve got a point-to-point course, shuttles are a critical component. Revel Mt. Charleston had two sets of shuttles, both of which were school buses. (That turned out to be fine, but wasn’t what I was expecting; school buses don’t have the suspensions to let me nap!) One set of shuttles left from the Sandy High School parking lot directly to the starting lines. Some folks chose to stay out near Mt. Hood, which is a gorgeous area, and Sandy was the designated parking lot. Separate shuttles took runners to the starting lines for the half marathon and the marathon start.

Here I am at Oh My God O-clock. Why no apostrophe in the caption, WordPress?

For a small extra fee, Revel also provided a shuttle from “downtown” Portland to the race (and back again). Separate full and half marathon buses loaded 2:30 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. at the Lloyd Center Courtyard by Marriott. Since I currently live about four blocks from there, this option was a no-brainer for me. I set out all of my race-day essentials, set my alarm for 2:00 a.m., and knew I’d have plenty of time to make it in the morning.

I had planned on taking a nap on the bus on the way to the start. Since we were not on tour coaches but on a school bus, no nap for me. That was DEFINITELY rough. Of course waking up at 2:00 a.m. was rough too. That’s Disney-race early, and I wasn’t even going to get a selfie with Mickey! I sat down on the bus, slurped up my Overnight Oats, and pretended to sleep. (I pretend to run, so I can pretend to sleep, right?)

Join Bain at @runrevel Mt. Hood 2019! Let's team up: register now for a great price, and maybe score extra perks? #halffanatic #marathonmaniacClick To Tweet

Ready, Set…

So I did my best to keep my eyes closed and tell my body that really, I was sleeping, on the ride out to the start. When we arrived at the starting line, the sun was still in bed, and the moon shone brightly above the starting line. I carefully stumbled off the bus and onto the road, and followed the other runners up a dirt road and into a field. I have no idea what the deal was with the field, but it was mown and not filled with cow-patties, so good enough for me. There were plenty of porta-potties, and since the starting line was remote they were all fresh (bonus!).

It was ridiculously cold and dark to be doing so, but after I used the porta-potties I diligently took out my sunscreen and sprayed on two solid layers. (It is easy to miss spots with the spray-on kind, and also important not to burn!) After they had dried sufficiently, I pulled on my beloved but slightly yellowed long-sleeved tee from the 2002 Great Columbia River Crossing, rolled up into my heat sheet like a little baked potato, and attempted to get a wee bit more shut-eye in the hour+ before the race.

It’s a little lonely being back in Oregon, since all of my crazy runner peeps are in California. At the same time, there are some benefits. I’m closer to the founding location of the Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs, so there is a club photo before every race, even if it seems like a “small” one. At Revel, first we had the Half Fanatics picture. Then there was a banner swap and a personnel change, followed by the photo for the 100 Half Marathons Club, followed by the same and a photo for the 50 States Club.

Half Fanatics, reporting for duty

I’m not sure if the photos are a little blurry, or if the people were still a little blurry when they were taken, or maybe both? Seriously I am not a morning person.

100 Half Marathons Club, reporting for duty!

The Half Course Rocked!

After the photographs I made one last porta-potty stop, tossed my heat sheet, and handed my gear bag over to the truck. Then I joined the other runners in the short walk back to the road. Since I charged my watch but oops left it at home, and couldn’t use Vi because in-ear headphones were banned on the course, there wasn’t much to do to get ready to go. At o’dark-thirty, we didn’t have any amplification, so I don’t know if someone sang the National Anthem or not.

We had a sunny, gorgeous day, and river views, too!

Overall, I loved the half marathon course. I remember three significant uphill climbs though–unlike Revel Mt. Charleston’s half, which is all downhill except for the short jog to climb over the freeway overpass, this was a net-downhall, not an all-downhill. There was an uphill somewhere between mile 2 and 3 that was either not so bad or I was still asleep. (The Rum Gum helped, but clearly hadn’t kicked in yet.) There was a serious uphill to the mile 10 marker. Finally, there was another slow, steady climb from mile 11 to mile 12. At that point we were on the highway, and I know you  can’t move a road, but it just seemed rude to put a hill right there on the course! (Naturally I did my best to hustle up the hill while yelling “I call shenanigans!” and “Who put this hill here?”)

 

One of the amusing inspirational signs along the course

The majority of the course was on what I’d call rural residential streets. The roads were paved and in excellent condition, with a variety of dwellings that ranged from a full-time residence, to a fishing retreat, to an artist’s studio, to the family cabin, and everything in between. We had an entire lane closed off for our use with cones, and there were volunteers to direct traffic at every intersection. The vast majority of the course was shaded, which I definitely appreciated once the sun came up. (I did have a mini sunblock spray in my pack, which I reapplied at mile 11.) Due to the way the few roads are in this part of the world, it wasn’t really possible for spectators to show up at random points on the course. That made me kinda sad, because there were no puppies to pet. I did see one absolutely gorgeous dog, but he was absolutely NOT down with this constant parade of people (which might be the first time he’s seen a stream of runners down “his” road). The other dogs along the course were largely warning us to stay the eff out of their yards. I did see two itty-bitty kitties, but I didn’t want to encourage them to hang out on the road so I waved and moved on.

It is a horse, made of horse shoes!

At some point after mile 10, the course joined the marathon course on Highway 26. (I understand the marathon ran quite a bit of their course along Highway 26.) This wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t fantastic either. For some of the highway segment we were running on a generous shoulder, and for the section that had the smaller shoulder, we had one of the east-bound lanes closed off for our use. It was definitely safe, but Highway 26 is the major east-west road for a decent part of the state, so there were trucks and all manner of traffic whooshing by. I was glad that was limited to about two miles of the course, after which we turned down the road towards the finish line. This, again, was a shaded, residential type street area, though it wasn’t a major thoroughfare like the earlier part of the course. There were also more people out cheering in this area, since it was possible to walk in from the finish line.

Ah, the Finish Line!

A Revel finish line, in my experience, has always been great. There’s the usual clock, timing mat, photographer, announcer set-up. Oh, and did I mention that Revel gives all the runners FREE photos? True story. A day or two after the race, I had access to 30 photos with me in them (and that’s before I look at the mob scene photos, or the albums with runners who can’t be identified by their numbers). As a not-so-fast runner, I came in with a slow dribble of runners and not a mob, so I was announced as I crossed.

These are my post-run feet, feeling the ooooo

After grabbing my medal, there were volunteers to hand me a bottle of water and a chocolate milk protein shake. Then I slowly made my way over to the pizza table and grabbed a slice, and a donut, and a diet Coke (all part of the official finisher food). There were two backdrops with props and signs for photos (either yours, or via the photographers taking the free photos). The results tent printed out a card for each finisher, and those with Boston Qualifying times got a special luggage tag announcing it. The age group awards were additional charms to put on the event medal. I really like how the ribbon is looped on, giving the medal a distinctive look.

The Long Ride Home

Soon it was time to shuffle over to the shuttle for the ride back to Portland. I had cleverly tucked my oofos into my checked bag, so my feet could chill as I stood and sat and waited for the bus. There were fairly long lines for the shuttles back to Sandy, which ran on a loop (pick up, drop off, repeat). The location wasn’t conducive to running more buses (you couldn’t put two on the roadway on opposing sides and still have space for running safely). The bus back to Portland left at the top of every hour, so I had some time to chat with other runners.

Here comes the PSA for this blog post: if it has been more than two years since you last took a CPR and first aid class, please, go sign up for a class RIGHT NOW. The Red Cross has classes all over the country, many days and times–choose one that works and go sign up! On our bus on the way home, I was again trying to sneak in some nap time. Suddenly there was a loud, “Is there a doctor on the bus?” Fortunately, there were two medical professionals on the bus. I don’t want to invade the privacy of the runner who had the problem, but I will say both loss of consciousness and vomiting were involved. As the two medical pros took over care, the other runners got the bus driver to pull over, and another runner called 911 to get an ambulance.  When the EMTs arrived, it seemed like everything was fine–the runner had a family member with them, and the two left with the EMTs in an ambulance.

Frankly, when you don’t know what’s going to happen, a medical emergency can be a little scary. But if we didn’t have medical professionals on the bus, I knew what to do. When I heard the call for a doctor, my brain immediately turned on and I snapped to attention. Again, we were very lucky to have two medical professionals on the bus who jumped into action. But if they hadn’t been there, would YOU know what to do (beyond call 911, obviously)? If you were the one experiencing the medical emergency, wouldn’t you want someone on the bus who could take control of the situation? Yup, me too.

Final Thought: All Good on Mt. Hood

I was impressed with the inaugural Revel Mt. Hood half marathon, and will definitely sign up to run next year. (If you follow that link, you’re joining my team, Train With Bain.) In fact, I’m thinking about running ALL of the Revel races next year. After all, if Mt. Charleston and Mt. Hood are both great, I bet the others are too.

If you are looking for a net-downhill (note that’s not ALL downhill!) race with a rural,, pretty course that’s mostly in the shade, you should definitely consider Mt. Hood. If you don’t live in the area, you can either rent a space near Sandy or Mt. Hood and use the rest of the weekend for fishing or a cabin retreat, or stay in Portland and explore the city after the race. See you June 29, 2019?

One of my FREE race photos from Revel Mt. Hood!

 

Yesterday, the Portland Board of Marathon Directors announced that there will be no Portland Marathon in 2018. Further, the organization is dissolving, and all remaining funds will be donated to local charities. The 2500 runners who already registered for the 2018 event will receive full refunds.

I loved and adored this race.

The Portland Marathon was my first marathon. After moving to Oregon in 2001, I got involved in Volkssports, which in the United States largely consist of untimed 5k and 10k walks hosted by local clubs. Participants track the number of events they have completed in one booklet, and the number of kilometers in another. As soon as I learned there was a walking division for the 42k Portland Marathon, I started talking my friends into walking it with me. In the end, it was me, my friend Susan, and my Dad. During the marathon we called Mom every few miles to give her an update.

I loved that marathon, which gave the three of us a ton of things to laugh about later. At one point, Dad turned to Susan and asked how she was doing. Susan smiled and said, “I think I should have packed Advil, because I am in some MAJOR pain.” Later in the course we were greeted by a tiny grandmotherly women who caught up with us. She asked if it was our first marathon, and we chatted for a few minutes before she told us to enjoy ourselves, and “I’ve got to go now. Goodbye!” Still walking, she sped ahead of us and we saw the sign on her back: this is my 50th marathon, how ’bout you? Yes, we got looped by the friendly neighborhood powerwalking grandmother. After Susan drove us back to my apartment, Dad and I learned why you shouldn’t immediately sit down after a marathon–getting up was so hard!–and slowly climbed the stairs to my second story apartment. Then I dropped my keys. We both started to bend down to pick them up, and we both stopped. (If you’ve completed a marathon, you know why!)

The Portland Marathon was the first race expo I ever went to, in the basement ballrooms of the downtown Hilton. Now that I’ve been to hundreds of race expos, I realize it wasn’t even that large in terms of race expos, but it was very exciting. I remember seeing all of the vendors and their running stuff, the weigh-in for the Clydesdale and Athena divisions, and the barbell station for the “pump and run” competition. As a walker, this was all foreign to me. There were attachments to your bib to indicate you wanted to have your picture taken, and another to confirm we had paid the local AVA club so they could stamp our walking books.

The finish line was my first big race finish line, complete with big finish line goodies. After receiving the medal–a shiny wonder on a red, white, and blue ribbon that I cherish–we received FINISHER shirts. (My first race shirts. My first shirts from Leslie Jordan, the first big athletic apparel company founded by a woman–also a local company.) All runners received a rose, a tree seedling, and other gifts, in addition to the gigantic buffet of post-race food: bananas, snacks, water, gatorade, slices of bread…I was hungry but couldn’t contemplate eating the dizzying buffet that lined the post-chute area.

I loved the Portland Marathon so much I did it three more times, and talked other friends into joining me. One year I even made it to the after party. (The first year, after Dad and I showered, we slept for many hours. Too tired to deal with anything, we ordered a pizza for dinner.)

I loved the iconic course, which showed off the entire city. (Until the city ruined the course last year, more on that later.) Runners went through downtown, the gates to Chinatown, under the Steel Bridge, over the St. John’s Bridge, and covered parts of each quarter of the city. The course went through a variety of neighborhoods, where residents threw marathon parties with signs, and kids got out sidewalk chalk and pom-poms and acted like cheerleaders. It have views of the Cascades, Swan Island, and the city’s skyline. The course literally was the finisher shirt design for many years, which I also loved (though some people were annoyed that the design was the same from year to year).

I loved how much of the city got involved in the marathon. There was entertainment at literally every mile (and you thought the Rock ‘n’ Roll series invented that idea? Nope!). I remember belly dancers, classical musicians, a Christian rock band. The course was staffed by volunteers from all sorts of groups; I first got involved in the marathon as a volunteer with the Penn State Club, as the Big Ten Clubs of Portland manned a water stop and several course monitor/directions posts.

I loved how much the marathon gave back. For years the Portland Marathon hosted “marathon school,” to teach other race directors how to put on a world-class event. The Portland Marathon was a world-class event. People came from all over the world to run it. Runners World consistently listed it as a destination race and a bucket list race. The marathon gave money to local charities, too.

For years after I started running, any time someone asked for a race recommendation, the Portland Marathon was at the top of my list. When I moved back to Portland in 2017, I was excited about the possibility of running the 50th annual Portland Marathon. I wasn’t the only one in love with this event, which The Bleacher Report called an “exceptional all-around event.”

A few bad apples spoil the cider.

Unfortunately, underneath this all a gigantic mess was brewing.

First, former Portland Marathon director, Les Smith, had embezzled a boatload of funds from the non-profit marathon. (Source for this fact and others in this paragraph. I should point out he ended up working out a deal and so wasn’t convicted of any crime and did not admit any guilt–but you don’t agree to pay back $845,000 that you didn’t take in the first place. Fortunately he’s banned from serving on non-profits, planning races, and practicing law as part of the agreement.) Like hundreds of thousands of dollars. So much that the Oregon Department of Justice was involved. In addition, there was a questionable relationship between the non-profit Portland Marathon and a for-profit company called Next Events that Smith partially owned. That investigation isn’t quite over. It’s pretty understandable that once this news broke, runners were uneasy about signing up to run the Portland Marath0n.

Second, that iconic course? It died an ugly death. The final year for the fast, flat (other than the lead-ups to the bridges) course was 2016. The first thing every announcement cites is “declining registration.” I am positive the destruction of the beautiful course directly resulted in a decline in registrations. The 2016 race also hit a snafu when the safety plan didn’t get approved by the Portland Fire Bureau, which seems kind of unthinkable since the race had a 40+ year history and surely the organization knew what it would take to file a proper plan, and on race day had not circulated the approved plan to the race officials and volunteers–the course was almost shut down. The race also directed runners to run extra mileage.

(That op-ed piece from The Oregonian–Portland’s newspaper–also documents other problems, including handing the first place trophy to the third place winner. In the end, Oregonian staff called for Portland to find another organization to organize the 2017 Portland Marathon.)

Sometime between when I moved to California in 2008 and 2o17, Portland became very antagonistic to races. I had barely started to run a 5k here and there by the time I left, but at that point all of the races I did were downtown, with a start and finish convenient to local brunches. When I moved back, I was shocked to learn that many of those courses, such as Pints to Pasta, had not only moved out of downtown, but had moved to other cities! This is baffling to me, as many runners meet up with friends after events for drinks or brunch (or both), and I definitely did some shopping after some of those races.

After the 2016 race, the city of Portland forced the course change, supposedly on the grounds that there were not enough Portland police officers to take care of the epic, historic course of the Portland Marathon. (When Runners World is publishing the scoop to the entire running world, that has to hurt registration too.) I’m not privvy to the internal discussions on that, but I have definitely been to races that used trained volunteers and police from other jurisdictions where the host city couldn’t supply the number of police the city required. The 2017 almost didn’t happen because the marathon organization ignored the requirement for a new course (and I’m guessing did not submit any alternative proposals for police coverage). Just a month out from the marathon, the event did not have a permit. According to that Runners World article, the marathon also still owed a police bill from the 2016 race!

In the end, the 2017 was pretty awful-looking, and I was glad I had not signed up to run. Instead of the gorgeous loop that showed off the best of the city, the course was largely an out-and-back along main roads and the freeway. Yuck. If I had been registered, I would have been pissed, despite the then-director’s attempt to spin the course as flatter and faster and even more BQ-friendly. Big ol’ bowl of NOPE there.

The 2017 race almost did not happen–surely another cause for declining registrations for 2018. For those who didn’t read about it in Runners World (the article is linked above), the city officials and race officials had a terrible working relationship after the 2016 event–no surprise even given the little I know–and by June 2017 the Oregon Department of Justice was investigating Smith. (That’s actually what kept me from registering in the first place.)

The Portland Marathon’s official statement regarding the cancellation of the marathon and dissolution of the organization is here. I find it is less than transparent, and downright dishonest in some aspects. Can you blame the city for wanting to “move in another direction” after the serious problems in 2016 and the discovery that the former race director embezzled nearly a million dollars from what was supposed to be a charitable group–one that was the face of Portland to thousands world wide? How is it that the Board of Directors failed to notice that the organization was breaking the law? (Smith and his partner, Mamie Wheeler, were the only two officers of both the non-profit Portland Marathon and their for-profit Next Events–creating a massive conflict of interest–in violation of Oregon law. Since Smith had been race director for 30 years and was also an attorney, he definitely knew better.)

In the face of what amounts to a dumpster fire, I believe the Portland Marathon organization had no choice but to dissolve. It abused the trust (and time and work) of runners and volunteers alike. The city had openly solicited proposals for another group to produce the event. After a rest, I’m hoping the city finds another race director who has the experience and integrity to give Portland the marathon it so richly deserves.

Disclosure: Bain here. I didn’t run Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans this year, so I didn’t write this post–it’s a guest post by fellow Rock ‘n’ Blog team member Gretchen Schoenstein! (I did write the headline, so don’t blame her for that, okay?) Gretchen ran this race as a Rock ‘n’ Blog team member (which means she didn’t have to pay the entry fee) but all of the content (including the pictures) and opinions are hers alone. Enjoy!

What better way to celebrate New Orleans 300th Anniversary than to run a Rock ’n’ Roll half marathon! RnR NOLA has got to be one of the most, if not the most, colorful race weekends out there. And the most energetic. And most beaded for sure. Those colors, that energy and of course those beads were on full, enchanting display this past weekend.

It might seem a bit odd to celebrate a city known for amazing food and drink to bring a bunch of runners to town to join the hometown runners–had more than one cab and ride-share driver remark on “y’all aren’t the usual crowd”–but where else are you going to celebrate your finish line with a sazerac than in the city that invented the drink?

For me, it’s a city I’ve been aiming to get back to to run since I first ran #RnRNOLA back in February 2011. Back then, it was only my 7th half marathon, and my 3rd Rock ’n’ Roll event. This past NOLA race was my 64th half marathon (54th RnR half!) and oh so worth the effort to finally get to run it in New Orleans again! It’s such a unique place to run–the history, the food, the people. Folks who are from New Orleans have a pride that is nearly unmatched for their city, and they’re so grateful to have all us runners come to town and not only enjoy a beautiful course that shows off some of the best parts of the city, but also make a point to really celebrate in a city that knows how.

You could sum up RnR NOLA for a lot of runners as: Run Hard, Play Hard!

And when I say run hard, here’s the great news, it’s not necessarily a hard run. Meaning, it flat, fast, and below sea level. Which is beautiful. You can’t help be hopeful and expectant for a happy finish time. Not only that, but the music along the course is unique to the city and some of the most dynamic you will hear on any course. ‘Kingfolk’ standing on the bed of a pick up truck playing vibrant New Orleans jazz while shouting and whooping it up with runners as the pass by? Yes please! Or how about looking up and around and seeing the history surrounding you in the churches, buildings, and homes architecture. And if you keep looking up, you’ll see beads just about everywhere.

Speaking of music–the speakers in the new mile markers signs? You have to hear them! Especially when you hear a song again along the way, like it’s your own soundtrack following you.

Run hard and you may just get a PR. Like I did seven years ago. Here’s the thing: it’s still my PR. And so I’d had aspirations of aiming for that PR again–ended 2017 races on an upswing, so why not? Well, the flu and pneumonia got in the way in January and February, so I had to shift my goal a bit. This you can do in NOLA. It’s a low risk, high reward kind of race. You can go for it, and this being the first of 12 halfs for 2018, I decided to get curious and use it as a way to kick the tires or test the water of what my body is capable of at the moment. Within the first few miles, I thought, hmmm, if I fight for every second I can on this course, I might just beat ALL of last year’s race finish times.

And so you take in the whole course, the amazing runners (eager in sequined skirts, green purple and gold shirts, sunglasses with the sun beaming) along the way like the woman running backwards, or the two guided blind runners inspiring everyone around them, Kathrine Switzer, or the Darth Vader wearing a Saints hat cheering people along. And the spectators? New Orleans might just have some of the best out there. So loud, so fun, so delighted to see us running towards them.

Speaking of seeing things coming – you cannot miss the NEW SIGNS along the course! New signs for water, gel and SiS support. I’d heard about these coming up but until you experience them you cannot begin to know how helpful they are. First, they’re super obvious from down the way, so you can much better navigate moving to the right or left or staying in the middle without tripping over runners making last minute decisions. The flow of runner traffic is much smoother through there.

Plus, seeing the signs way up ahead allowed me to finish a gel or make a thoughtful decision about water, yes or no? And if yes, which side? And also if yes, how much? My fueling was far better managed which made for consistency that I know helped keep my pace and health along the course.  These signs are a game changer. As always, there was stellar volunteer support at those water and gel stations–people working so hard to make sure runners have access to things they need–the determined commitment they have makes you shout out THANK YOU as you run by.

When you finish in City Park, it’s nearly an instant party. How could it not be? It’s New Orleans, c’mon! There were even food trucks nearby and I’ve never seen so many runners lined up for delicious offerings with Soul Offerings and Cowboy Mouth raging on stage–if you’re a food truck, you did extremely well serving a lot of hungry runners. That afternoon and evening, after everyone had crossed their finish lines, the bars and restaurants were buzzing with runners eating and drinking their way through the city; you could spot them, they had a hobble in their giddyup and a big smile on their face.

Oh, as for me? Just being in New Orleans and recalling some of the familiar course, including running down and back along St Charles Avenue, a bit along Magazine Street, down by the Mississippi river with it on your right and St Louis Cathedral on your left, past Cafe du Monde, and up onto Esplanade Avenue and entering into City Park past the huge fountains was worth the travel and the effort. And yes, I pushed myself because I could and because the course allowed it. And so, happily, I crushed ALL 10 of last year’s finish times by nearly three minutes. Couldn’t have done without the New Orleans course and the Rock ’n’ Roll support.

Happy 300th Birthday New Orleans. Laissez les bon temps rouler indeed!

About the Author. With half marathons being her preferred distance, Gretchen Schoenstein has run 64 of them since April 2010. In late 2006 she was unable to walk, diagnosed with a debilitating auto immune disease that resulted in doctors telling her she’d never run again. For 3.5 years she listened to them and then decided to run despite their protestations and laced up a pair of running shoes and hasn’t looked back, running 64 half marathons in eight years, with a goal of 75 total by the end of 2018. It doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges and flare ups, including being diagnosed with asthma, but as every step is a gift, Gretchen is grateful for every day she gets to run and every step she gets to take. 

Psst! Bain here. Why not follow Gretchen on Instagram and Twitter? Her handle is @rungrateful, in case those links are giving you trouble. You can also find her blog at iwonderwoman.com

Disclosure: I was fortunate enough to be selected for the 2018 Rock ‘n’ Blog Team. Members of the Rock ‘n’ Blog Team receive free entry to up to ten Rock ‘n’ Roll races and one VIP, and other surprise perks. All of the opinions in this review are my own, there is no sponsored content. Per usual, I’ve got plenty to say on my own.

The times, they are a changin’, since Ironman bought Competitor Group and is now entering its first year solo as the owner and producer of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series. While some of the bigger changes were already phased in—such as the much-anticipated price increase for Tour Pass and the elimination of the unlimited Tour Pass option (bringing the cost per Tour Pass race to $70) and the transition of the Competitor staff who accepted offers to move to Tampa into their new Ironman roles—many were waiting for the first race of the year to see what the new series owner has in store for Rock ‘n’ Roll.

New Brooks hat and new goodr sunglasses on course at Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona 2018

General Communication. Or lack thereof. The complaint I have heard most frequently is that it is currently impossible to get ahold of anyone at Rock ‘n’ Roll to fix problems. I’m not sure if none of the customer care people from Competitor wanted to move over to Ironman, or if Ironman was unprepared for the volume of email, but there are a lot of unhappy runners out there on social media. Currently the fastest way to get a response is to contact Rock ‘n’ Roll through their Facebook page, which seems really inefficient especially when many of the inquiries could be handled with the exact same response. (I’ll share it here: Yes, the Rock ‘n’ Roll team are aware that many people are still waiting on Heavy Medals they earned in 2017. Sources say there’s a meeting soon to get to the root of the problem and get medals in hands ASAP. If you’re missing a medal, hang in there!)

Personally, I’m disappointed the new team wasn’t proactive in communicating the cancellations of the Brooklyn and St. Louis races—basically people found out about it after they were removed from the website. This is a huge missed marketing opportunity for Ironman, especially since there are semi-credible rumors that new Rock ‘n’ Roll destinations are on the way. When Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Vancouver races parted ways, everyone who had run Vancouver got an email about the change. This was a great way to help set runner expectations—oh, the races are going forward, they just won’t be part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll series—without having to field a dozen email inquiries about what if you pre-registered, etc.

Pre-season general communications could also have been used to communicate some of the series-wide changes in advance of the races and prevent them from becoming fodder for Facebook page complaints, as well as to put a more positive spin on some of the unpopular changes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t from Ironman but from social media (or at the Expo!) that most people learned the marathon jackets have been discontinued, as have the physical Tour Pass credentials (and the Tour Pass priority check-out line for the Brooks/Rock ‘n’ Roll merchandise area), and the Tour Pass vanity bibs/back bibs.

Registration. Ironman decided to kill Competitor Group’s RaceIt registration system and use Active.com instead. From a financial standpoint, this probably makes the most sense for the company (and may have been contractually required—I don’t have any inside information, but I know a little about business and it is at least a possibility). While some runners have chafed at the increased fees and Tour Pass now has fees added to it, members of the Active Advantage program may wind up ahead…but still pay $40 in fees for the Tour Pass 10-pack. (Active Advantage is the premium subscription for Active. Members save up to $10 in fees per registration, among other perks. If you register for a race and the fees are $5, you don’t pay the $5. The Tour Pass 10-pack fees are about $50, so Advantage members pay $40.)

Confirmations. In years past, each participant got an email to print out a waiver. You’d go to the Rock ‘n’ Roll website, enter your full name and birth date, and (assuming you were registered!) a .pdf document would pop up, pre-populated with your name, address, bib number, and other details. This year I got my email, and went to the website to print the waiver. It only required my last name, and when I pulled up the confirmation page to print, it was blank—I had to hand-write all of the information in myself. While that last part is definitely a #firstworldproblem, I’m a little concerned about only needing my last name to pull up my bib number. If you don’t need to know anything else, it’s pretty easy to print up a confirmation sheet and pretend to be me. Sure, the volunteers at packet pickup are trained to look at each ID before issuing a bib, but the same is true at runDisney races and there are at least two known documented instances of bib theft at the Disneyland races.

Mugs sporting the finisher medal design.

Pre-Race Communications. I’ve run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona marathon once, and the half marathon twice, in addition to a few rounds of the 5k (and that sweet remix medal). Though I opted out of the 5k this year—the December sale price was still a bit higher than I’m willing to pay for anything but a charity 5k—I had initially set my expectations based on my past experiences, all of which were good. (See my review for last year.) The pre-race email from Rock ‘n’ Roll completely changed my expectations. These all communicated that the new Rock ‘n’ Roll experience would be focused on the on-course experience: a band every mile, more food on course, new signage, and other enhancements to the actual race. I also got several emails about the all-new, improved series app with live runner tracking, which I downloaded immediately. Boarding the plane to Phoenix, I was excited to see what the new race experience would be like.

Expo: Entry. My race roommates and I basically went from our planes to the race expo at the convention center downtown. Arizona confuses me a little, as it seems like all the cites overlap each other and are smushed together, yet nothing seems to be near anything else. (If you’re headed to this race, I highly recommend being prepared to Uber and Lyft.) Anyway, we got to the expo safely and strolled right past the “look up my bib” stations because we were prepared. Walking into the expo, the first thing I noticed was the Hall of Fame banner, because it wasn’t there. I usually start my expo by taking selfies with my Hall of Fame friends who aren’t going to the race, so that was a bummer. I hope the Hall of Fame banner debuts at Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans.

One great addition: a station where you can scan your bib to check the timing chip and make sure your information is correct.

Expo: bibs, shirts, and Brooks. It was a quick few minutes and I had my bib in hand. The bibs are basically the same design as last year, with one major improvement: no more shoe timing tags. If you’ve run Rock ‘n’ Roll in the past, you know the routine: pull the plastic strip off of the bib, tear it in half, attach the correct half to a shoe by making a loop. No more. Finally the timing tag is ON the bib, so you don’t have to do anything about it, it’s there. Another improvement? The back of the bib has a pre-printed label with your emergency contact’s name and phone number. This is a great idea. The only complaint I heard is that you cannot fold the bib—which is large—without wrecking the timing chip. This isn’t a problem for me, since I’m tall and I generally put my bib on a race belt or use Race Dots. My shorter and smaller friends have less available real estate for the giant bib would love smaller bibs or a different timing tag. I’m confident that in a race or two they will craft a  hack that takes care of this. Yay, bibs!

All of the 2018 shirts revealed so far feature this graphic with a very slight variation.

The shirts? That’s another story. While I didn’t immediately notice, I overheard several runners complaining about the shirt fabric; on further inspection, it does appear thicker, less soft, and less wicking than the shirts from last year. I don’t know if Ironman fired all of their graphic designers or what, but the shirt is pretty awful. This was an issue with Rock ‘n’ Roll shirts a few years ago—they were all poorly designed and a crazy percentage of them were grey–it was one of the major gripes of the season. For starters, the Arizona shirt is grey. The graphic appears to be the stock image for all of the series shirts this year—the rectangular-shaped object over the bottom that has the race name on it is the only variation. (For New Orleans, it is a street car.) In Arizona, this design would have looked better in colors of the state flag– red, blue, and yellow.  I heard quite a few complaints about the shirts, which is unfortunate as it’s a huge missed opportunity for the race. From the race’s standpoint, the shirt functions as free advertising (as other people will see it, assuming the participants wear it), and it can also serve as a reminder to keep the race in the runner’s memory throughout the year (assuming they wear it) and perhaps plant the seed of running the race again the next year. Hopefully Ironman is listening to runner feedback, since that has always been one of the main reasons the Rock ‘n’ Roll series was beloved by repeat participants, and will make a mid-year course-correction.

In another random twist, the samples inside the gear check bag? A sleep aid and a laxative. Strange combo. (I tossed both. I wish there had been a “no thank you” box for them instead.)

My favorite of the Brooks shirts–great design!

The gear produced by Brooks, in contrast to the official race shirt, was adorable. Brooks had several great designs and colors. Since one of the two things I had forgotten to pack was a hat, I treated myself to a new one—turquoise/teal with embroidered race name on the side. Brooks also had the snazzy new Rock ‘n’ Roll design shoes, a tie-dye print that just made me happy looking at it. The Brooks area also featured an expanded line of Rock ‘n’ Roll race-specific merchandise, from pint glasses and coffee cups to a stuffed animal. The only bummer in this area is that the express lane for Tour Pass holders was gone, again making me think the Tour Pass may not be on the tour next year.

 

 

As you walk into the expo, crossing a timing mat with your bib returns a cheer!

Expo: main expo. Since I had forgotten to pack only two things—the aforementioned had and my sunglasses—my agenda at the expo was to get a hat and a pair of goodr sunglasses. (Sadly, I lost my favorite Maui Jim’s at Disney World, and Maui Jim wasn’t at the expo.) The Arizona expo was small compared to the expo at each of the prior Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona races I attended. Curiously, there were several booths that had nothing to do with running or tourism in Arizona, which are the things I expect to see at a race expo. There was a booth doing some kind of hair extensions, for example. There were two or three booths selling anti-wrinkle creams which was a huge disappointment. I’m hoping this isn’t a trend—there were also aggressive anti-wrinkle cream peddlers at the IDEA World fitness convention in Las Vegas last year, but I attributed that to Las Vegas.  I don’t go to a race expo to have some booth assault me with a “no more Botox” theme. Thanks, I don’t do Botox, I take good care of my skin, and wrinkles are a natural part of aging. Whatever. It was a weird expo, with many of the main race sponsors not there, and several of the regular exhibitors also absent. Overall, the expo was somewhat disappointing, but I assume this was a function of (1) the newly increased booth prices for exhibitors, and (2) the series’ new focus on the on-course experience.

#BlackSheepRun

The parts I liked best about the expo were seeing my friends and trying Tailwind for the first time. One of my friends is now a head honcho with the Spartan Race series expo booths, and we got to catch up. (Look for big things coming from Spartan this year—more races, more stadium sprints, more in-expo experiences.) A bunch of the Rock ‘n’ Roll regulars tend to eventually congregate in the Rock ‘n’ Roll booth to catch up, make plans, and take pictures. Finally, at the Hot Chocolate booth I also had a “hey! I follow you on Instagram!” moment, which is always fun. For me, the best part of running races is all the great runners, and I’m always thrilled to meet people in person who I’ve only seen online.

My new favorite liquid fuel

Tailwind, if you haven’t tried it, is AMAZING. I’ve been wanting to try it for quite awhile, but I hesitate to buy any running fuel that I haven’t taste-tested first. If you’ve tried enough running fuels, you know that not all of them agree with all digestive systems and that you really want to know if one is going to fight you before you buy a bunch of it.  The Tailwind booth had four different flavors of fuel to taste, and two of their recovery drinks (which I skipped for now). Tailwind is a powder you mix with water, and it serves as both fuel and hydration. When mixed as directed it has a thin consistency like water, a very light flavor, and almost no color (Tailwind doesn’t have any artificial colors in it). To my great surprise, not only did I like all of the types of Tailwind I sampled, the orange (yes, orange!) was my favorite. Usually I’m a berry or fruit punch flavor type of runner, and I avoid orange popsicles, orange soda, orange drinks, and orange desserts. Tailwind orange is pretty delicious though. I bought a bag of orange (orange!) at the expo special price, and also some samples (single-serving size) of other flavors. In my mind, this was a major expo win—but more on Tailwind later.

Race Day Preparations and the Starting Line. My crew selected their hotel based on proximity to the finish line at the park. Turns out it was also quite close to the starting line for the half marathon. (The marathon has a smaller field, and a separate start.) The morning of the race I got dressed, mixed up a packet of Tailwind (which dissolved immediately, without extensive mixing/shaking, and without any gritty undissolved bits at all), and headed over to the starting line. Unfortunately, I relied on the app to tell me where the starting line was—and it was wrong. I learned this when I arrived at what I thought was the starting line, only to join about 20 other runners walking over to where the starting line actually was. Bummer.

This would be MUCH easier to read if the entire square had the number. I’m already in the corral area, it’s pretty easy to figure out what the number is.

The starting line did feature new corral markers, which were inflatables instead of cardboard signs. While they were easy to spot, they were difficult to read. The markers are thick material like a bounce house, and they wasted spaced with “corral” and the number sign. To my over-40 eyes, they were actually harder to read from far away than the old sign-on-a-stick (I ended up in the wrong corral initially).

On the bright side, the starting line had pumping music and a ton of energy. We all missed Ann, the usual Rock ‘n’ Roll announcer, who is sidelined with an injury for the time being. The stand-in did a great job of keeping the crowd pumped up though, and there was a lot of fun and fanfare.

The On-Course Experience. Had I stuck to my expectations based on my prior experience running this race, they would all have been met. But as I mentioned earlier, I had received a bunch of email hyping the new focus on the experience during the race and so I was excited to check out the new race experience, so I was looking out for the specific items mentioned in the email.

  • One of the things mentioned in the emails was new signs at the corrals and on the course. The signs on the course were color-coded aid station signs that let runners know what would be offered at the aid station. I definitely appreciated that I could see the signs before I got to the aid station. At the same time, signs are a depreciable asset and need to be replaced every now and then; while I liked the new signs, I see them as more of an ordinary business expense and less of an enhancement for the runners.
  • Food on course. Half marathoners did not get food on the course. (I believe the marathon runners were offered bananas on the course.) Based on the emails, I thought there would be some actual food at the half marathon aid stations.
  • Note the lack of gel at the gel station

    Gel stations. In past years, the half marathon course had one aid station with gel; last year the official gel was Glukos, and prior to that it was Gu. This year, Science in Sport (SiS) is the official gel. Some people love it, others don’t. Since I was experimenting with Tailwind, I didn’t eat gel on the course. It’s good that I wasn’t relying on it, as the pre-race emails all promised me two gel stations on course, but there was NO gel at the first gel aid station. I saw the signs, and they were followed by an empty table and empty boxes. This is a course with a 4-hour time limit. I finished well in advance of the time limit, and was nowhere near the end of the pack. I’m disappointed there wasn’t enough gel for the slower runners at the aid station.

  • Bands Every Mile. The pre-race emails also promised a band every mile. For the first 8 miles, the race delivered: a band every mile! Then the bands dropped off. There is an out-and-back portion of the course (which really needs a timing mat—it’s a known cheat-point as I documented last year) which I get would have been difficult to band-up, but there weren’t any bands for the last several miles. (There was a DJ station, but the DJ left before the course closed.) I’m not sure I need a band every mile, but if you promise me a band every mile and don’t deliver, that’s not good.
  • “On Course Activations.” The pre-race emails promised more of these. When I read them, I thought “wow, this is a badly-worded email” because “activation” is a jargony-PR term that basically means something interactive with a brand. (So, for example, the opportunity to take a test-drive in a Toyota at the expo is an activation.) Historically, the on-course activations have been things like the inspiration zone with encouraging quotes put up by Alaska Airlines in Seattle. The only one I noticed at this race was the Toyota zone DJ.

Overall, I had a good experience on the course. Post-Dopey I was walking, and I didn’t stop at Bosa Donuts this year, but the weather was gorgeous and the course has some scenic spots. I figured this out around mile 11, when I was thinking I’d never run this race again but then realized it was because the race wasn’t meeting my expectations—ALL expectations set up by the pre-race emails.

Tailwind. Side note, remember how I tried Tailwind at the expo? I mixed some up for the race and carried it with me. Instead of taking Powerade during the race, I sipped on Tailwind throughout the course. (I did take a few cups of water at some of the aid stations, but no extra fuel.) I only carried one bottle (size: Camelbak podium, Nuun bottle) and it lasted the entire course. I never got sick of the taste, which is very light. My tummy stayed happy the entire time, and even after the race I wasn’t starving and ready to hoover all of the foods. I’m so excited to have found Tailwind! If you haven’t tried it, you really should!

Finish line. The finish line was just like it has always been, with some adjustments to the post-race snacks. I grabbed a bottle of water and a post-race chocolate milk as I usually do (though Gatorade was also available). I took a banana. Snacks consisted of a granola bar (the plain hard granola kind), pretzels, and Pringles.  Personally, I really miss when the granola bar was a Power Bar (the thicker ones with the cake-like consistency); everyone who knows anything about sports nutrition knows you’re supposed to put some protein in the tank within the first 30 minutes after an endurance event. (This made me extra thankful for the chocolate milk!) I also miss the Del Monte fruit cups, though they were logistically a bit of a pain.

Finisher Festival. Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona has one of the best finisher festivals of the series! We had a great band, per usual, and a series of food trucks from the Maine lobster guys who were on Shark Tank to a truck that served really great pretzels shaped like giant moustaches. It’s a great atmosphere, and a ton of people come to watch the band. We had great weather, though it was very, very sunny. Normal for Arizona, but kind of brutal after running a race.

Bling. The medal is cute, and features a cactus and bright colors. Unlike the generic design for the race shirts, the race medals this year are more race-themed, though to date every medal revealed is a guitar-pick shape with brightly-colored and cartoony artwork. The ribbon is a wide, satin-y ribbon with a colorful design and the race information, and I expect these will continue to be the standard (especially after the strong runner feedback several years back requesting them).

Marathon Zone. As I mentioned, I didn’t run the marathon this year (though the year I did run the marathon, I would have loved to have a marathon zone!). The Marathon Zone was one of several special perks just for marathoners. This was part of the focus on the race experience (and, I assume, added to assuage the hurt feelings of the marathoners who signed up to run Arizona last January and thought they were getting a marathon finisher jacket). Other marathon specials were the bananas on the course, and a red carpet (literally) at the finish line. Back to the Marathon Zone, which was a separate area for marathoners only. Inside there was a separate spread of food, including pizzas and Snickers bars, and a massage tent with free massages.

While the theory was nice, the concept was poorly executed. For one, there was no shade at all in the Marathon Zone, other than the massage tent. As I mentioned earlier, the mid-day finish meant straight-on Arizona sun for the finish. The Snickers bars melted completely (I saw examples). There were zero marathoners sitting on the chairs out in the full-sun. In contrast, the VIP area had umbrellas over at least some of the tables. For two, the Marathon Zone was far from the stage so it wasn’t possible to watch the headliner concert and enjoy the pizza and massages—you had to leave the area to watch the concert. In contrast, the VIP area was within the sight-lines of the stage. Finally, the entire marathon zone was shut down before the marathon course was finished. In other words, even if you finished the race within the time limits, you might not get to enjoy the amenities because they had already been disassembled. (This is the case for some friends of mine.) If you are going to have special amenities for the marathoners, they should be available to ALL marathoners who finish within the course time limits. (Instead, random people were handed entire pizzas as they shut down the Marathon Zone, while my marathoner friends arrived to find an empty field.)

Ultimately, I’d run this race again–and recommend it to you, too. Next time, I won’t let the pre-race hype emails set up my expectations though. It’s still early in the season, and there was a post-race survey that I’m sure plenty of runners filled out, so I’m sure the proud new owners of Rock ‘n’ Roll have plenty of information. I hope they choose to carry on the Rock ‘n’ Roll legacy of responsiveness to runner feedback–and maybe tone down the promises in the pre-race emails.

I Kahnt believe I met Melissa of Run, Heifer, Run!

 

Did you run Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona this year? How was the marathon? The 5k? The mile? Will I see you at any of the other races I’m planning to run this year?

Where else will I rock 2018?

  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Seattle
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • San Dieg0
  • San Antonio
  • Las Vegas
  • Denver? New Orleans? Hm…