The Roses on the River event was originally slated to start on the west side of the river. For those unfamiliar with Portland, the Willamette River runs through town, separating the west side from the east side. (Not to be confused with the Columbia River, which runs east-west and separates the north-most part of Portland, Oregon form the south-most part of Vancouver, Washington.) Downtown Portland is immediately adjacent to the river, and there is a paved promenade/walkway next to the water in addition to Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Part of the draw of the Roses on the River run is that the race is sponsored in part by the Portland Thorns, our winning women’s soccer team (which played short several team members at the beginning of the season as they were busy kicking butt as part of the U.S.A. women’s national soccer team…you know, the national soccer team that actually wins World Cups). This is a BIG draw to the event; instead of yet another race shirt, participants receive Thorns scarves (that’s what soccer fans wear) and a ticket to the Thorns game.
This year, the racist groups Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer decided to come to Portland from out-of-state and hold a “rally” on the same day as Roses on the River, a decision they announced what seems like just a few days before the race. For those of you not playing along at home, Portland fancies itself to be a liberal and inclusive town. In a state with a significantly racist history, modern Portland is at least trying. This makes white supremacists angry enough to don matching polo shirts and/or riot gear, board rented school buses, and head to Portland to…find people to beat up? I’m not sure what they actually plan to do, because they just seem to end up brawling in front of local businesses and breaking windows downtown. Maybe they want their closeted-white-supremacist-brethren to “come out” as modern Klansmen? Maybe they just wanted to mess with Roses on the River? At any rate, they aren’t local, and they seem to show up to antagonize protesters who identify as anti-fascist (some of whom are also not-from-Portland violent thugs, so at least they have that in common).
Race organizers for Roses on the River reacted by moving the entire event out of downtown, and over to the east side of the river (which does not have a gigantic stretch of park like the west side, but which does have a paved multi-use trail for running, biking, etc.) to what is apparently called the “Eastbank Festival Plaza.” This was entirely sensible, leaving the Portland police less to worry about downtown and providing runners with a ton of free parking. It also put the starting line within walking distance from my apartment.
The Thorns? They pulled their sponsorship of the race. That’s right, no Thorns at Roses on the River. While runners still got a ticket to the Thorns game, they did NOT get the limited-edition Thorns scarf—one of my big reasons for signing up for the race. The Thorns officially cited “liability,” which is a bogus excuse given that (1) all participants sign a liability waiver, and (2) the race moved across an entire river, away from the “rally” area, and police shut down the bridges. I suspect the REAL reason the Thorns pulled out is that they were afraid people would lose or abandon their scarves, which the white supremacists might grab on their way to the brawl, and therefore might end up in pictures of rioters and thus become “bad optics” for the Thorns. Nevermind that they could have avoided this by only handing scarves out at pre-event packet pickup (and changed the rules to DQ anyone wearing one), or mailed or otherwise made them available only a day or more after the event. Nope. They just pulled out. Race organizers didn’t even have time to change the website to show that runners wouldn’t get a Thorns scarf—I found out AT the race!! (I later found out the Thorns also forbid the race organizers from handing out any leftover scarves from 2018. Seriously.)
Due to the change in location and change in space, I suspect several companies that had planned to be at the start/finish area also pulled out of this year’s Roses on the River. Like I didn’t see Jersey Mike’s, which was supposed to give finishers a half sandwich (not that I cried over this too much, since races often don’t provide vegetarian sandwiches). It almost makes no sense, since there was MORE parking, and plenty of space under the bridge. I was very pleased to see my favorite race supporter, the Franz bakery grilled cheese truck! After the race I grabbed a grilled cheese bite and a loaf of delicious glutenous goodness to take home.
I arrived about ten minutes before the starting time. (I want to say the race had self-sorting heats, with the walkers starting first, but I wouldn’t stake my life on that.) There was no line to pick up my bib and attached timing chip, and no worries about where to put my scarf because I didn’t get one.
The race was a 5k only this year (some past years did have a 10k option) starting from the Eastbank Festival Plaza, just north of the Hawthorne Bridge. The course was an out-and-back, south past OMSI, past the Ross Island Bridge, and a bit further south before the turnaround and return north to the start. The path was not closed to other uses, but the few other runners and cyclists out there were pretty reasonable.
In the spirit of “I am supposed to be training for the Chicago Marathon–and you should definitely donate to my fundraiser for Team Imerman Angels–I had intended to run/walk intervals. Unfortunately, I was still learning how to make the intervals on my watch work, and so the entire event was timed as a warm-up. Oops. After I realized my mistake I did some self-timed intervals. The plan was to run 3, walk 2, but my lungs were not game to play, so I did more run 2 or 1, walk 1 or 2. Near the end I got inspired to kick my own butt and turn on the speed, and ran right past some folks mustering for the riots under the Hawthorne Bridge before I crossed the finish line. (I later went back to look at them, and took a photo—super obviously, not even trying to hide it a little—to post to facebook so my friends would avoid the area. It was hard to tell who they were as a few had on MAGA hats, but there was also a riot medic—something I associate with the left—and some punch-out Donald Trump masks that were a very unflattering parody, along with lots of black commando-style gear and bandanas over faces and a big show of going to shake hands with the police officers babysitting them.)
I did appreciate that the walkers got to go in the first heat, and not just because I got to sleep in a little. Many had finished by the time I started, and the ones left on the course had spread out. There were also plenty of walkers, as Terrapin Events (the race company) is serious about making walkers welcome. While out on the run I saw plenty of families, and also parent-kid combos, and high school track runners.
Then I collected my cider—2 Towns Ciderhouse and Widmer Brothers Brewing provided post-race adult beverages—and my grilled cheese bite. There was music and some people were dancing as I picked up samples of vitamins disguised as a fun-sized candy bar, after which I sauntered down to a nearby restaurant to eat brunch with some of my peeps.
Would I run it again? Maybe, if (1) I’m actually going to get the Thorns scarf I was promised, and (2) there is no sissy-boy “I’m exerting my First Amendment rights” nonsense going on. (Yes, I’m still a bit sore that the Thorns didn’t make any effort to get the promised scarves to runners, especially since I bet they were ordered well-enough in advance that they exist somewhere.) It would also have to be on a weekend when there are no competing events, as I run up and down the sides of the river on a fairly regular basis. The race organizers and the runners and vendors were great, and created a festive atmosphere. If you are looking for a low-key 5k that is also timed, Roses on the River might be your Portland race.
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!
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.)
New 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.
Get on the bus, Gus. As with last year, the 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 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.
Disclosure: As a member of the official Blue Ridge Marathon blogger-ambassador team, I received a free entry to the Slow K. As always, all opinions are my own.
Everyone knows you shouldn’t go straight from being very active, or running long miles, to couch-potato-worthy zero. Yet that’s what most of us do the day after a race. Worse, for destination marathons that fall on a Sunday, many runners hop an airplane back home the same day. Yikes!
Another problem avid runners face is the non-running-significant-other. It’s fun to have your spouse or boyfriend or whatever come along on race weekend, but I’m not sure how much fun it is for them when the entire weekend revolves around an event they aren’t participating in.
This year, the Blue Ridge Marathon races brilliantly solved both problems with The Slow K: an untimed 5k-ish event. It was brilliant.
The Slow K started across the street from our hotel, so we thought we’d walk over. Minor issue, part of the path was shut-off by a chain-link fence, so we had a little pre-5K parkour event. Upon our arrival, we found a super chill pre-brunch scene.
Upon checking in each not-runner received their number on a flower lei (not a bib), and a coffee mug. Pre-“race” there was plenty of coffee and hot cocoa, as well as some donuts to snack on. (Don’t judge. Most of us had just done a mountainous race!) The event was fairly small–this was the first year–and there was plenty of space to mill around, chat, and meet other runners.
It was fun to see runners just as stiff and sore as I was hobbling around and trying to get the juices flowing again, while non-runner husbands and girlfriends who were not walking like zombies filled coffee mugs. There were a few strollers and plenty of walking kiddos as well. That’s the great thing about a “Slow K,” it is literally for everyone. Exactly zero people were there to race, or even run!
Off to one side was a mimosa bar where, for a small donation, you could DIY your own combo with sparkling wine, juice, and fresh fruit. I’m pretty sure the idea was to grab one after the Slow K, but the mimosa cups fit inside the coffee mugs so perfectly that some of us just couldn’t help ourselves! They also had fancier coffee (in case the more pedestrian coffee that came with the donuts wasn’t up to your standards). Through the magic of square, I made my donation (I should have taken notes, I want to say this was for an arts or music program), selected some pineapple juice, made a little more room in the cup, and added fresh strawberries. Not a bad way to start a “run” (quotes intentional, as no one was running).
The added bonus of a slow event where you’re trying to get people to move but not run, and where you hand out coffee mugs instead of medals: it’s really, really hard to run with a coffee mug in your hand and not spill all over the place. At least as the event started, most of us still had full or semi-full mugs in our hands.
The weather was slightly soggy, but not really rainy–sort of a continuation of the weekend’s theme. The loop course wound along the river, through some park areas, and back to the start. There were a bunch of cute signs close to the start/finish to cheer on the “runners” too.
The Slow K was so much fun that I’m a bit confused as to how every race isn’t doing this. It’s a brilliant way to end a weekend and celebrate everyone’s accomplishments.
According to WordPress, I started this post in August 2017…four months after the race. Sometimes, you have to go back and finish what you started. Buckle up and grab a glass of wine, as this is going to be a looooong post. Actually, I think I’ll make it two posts. Let’s call this “Part I.”
My 2017 DNF Was Amazing!
Disclosure: after registering for the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon, I was accepted to the Official Blogger contingent! Blog team members receive a free race entry as a thank you for helping to spread the word about the race. As I had already registered, the race team graciously allowed me to give my entry to another runner–the one who originally suggested I apply to the blog team. Per usual, all opinions in this post are mine (and you KNOW I have plenty of them to go around).
A few years ago when some friends of mine registered for Goofy’s Race-and-a-Half Challenge (the Disney World combo where you run a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday) I thought that was the dumbest idea ever. A year later, I registered to run The Dopey Challenge (the Disney World combo where you run a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon on consecutive days). That actually turned out to be fun–“fun,” says the woman who once said, “run? only if I’m being chased by something with big teeth.”
It was probably 2015 when I was poking around the Marathon Maniacs facebook group–as a newly-minted Double Agent who had just sworn “no more marathons, except maybe Disney”–that I first heard about the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon. This is a race that bills itself as “America’s toughest road race” due to the changes in elevation and has added MORE elevation to the original course! This did not sound like The Race for Bain.
Since I inevitably do everything I swear I won’t–be careful! this is what happens when you say, “I’ll NEVER run a marathon”–I signed up to run the marathon. (Actually, my friend Jackie saw that the race was looking for bloggers and encouraged me to apply. Which I did…and I’m honestly not sure if that was before or after I registered to run.) I’m going to blame the fact that I was at a race expo at the time, and not only was the price at a great discount but they also gave me last year’s race shirt and a pair of Farm to Feet socks. (Yes, it appears I will run for socks.)
As a flat-lander living at something like 8′ above sea level, and as a runner whose lungs are still royally pissed that I decided to run the Sedona Marathon, naturally I was terrified! Fortunately there is a solid remote training program, complete with a flat-lander modification option. (There was also an in-person training program, but it was a little inconvenient to travel from Oakland to Roanoke several times a week.) The training plan included the big-picture overview (like a chart of every week’s workouts), weekly emails with each week’s training plus race news and helpful tips, and a private Facebook group. Between when I signed up to run and the actual race date, life took some complicated turns (that’s why I’ve been so prolific on the blog, right?) and I didn’t get it nearly the amount of training I had planned. I didn’t stick to the training plan.
I DID try to get in some hill training–but trust me, I wish I’d had more! In my dream-plan I would have driven to Tiburon to train on the hills. In my reality-calendar I conquered Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco, took all of my “all out” treadmill intervals at OrangeTheory at a 15% incline, and worked with my sports medicine people to build my glutes, keep my IT band happy, and add strength to my hamstrings. If you’re considering this race, which I hope you are, the flat-lander training plan includes some faux-hill options such as using the treadmill and taking your downhill practices down the hills in parking garages (with obvious safety precautions!).
Aside from training, Blue Ridge takes a little more planning in the travel department than most races I have run. Generally, I hop on the Southwest website and my race travel is plug-and-play. Not for this race. For one, Southwest doesn’t fly to Roanoke (which they definitely should fix before the race next year). So I met up with my friend Jackie in the Phoenix airport, and we flew to DC together and then took a road trip through parts of Virginia. Jackie took care of the hotel arrangements, we signed up for the pre-race pasta party to make that easier, and an epic road adventure began!
When we arrived in Roanoke, the hotel had a cute little welcome sign for the runners as well as goody bags! Our hotel was within walking distance of the starting line, and also had a special early-hours breakfast available, all of which were bonuses.
After checking into the hotel, the first order of business was packet pickup. Roanoke isn’t a gigantic town, so we were able to walk over (dodging a few raindrops here and there). It seemed like the locals took advantage of early pickup as there was quite literally no line when we arrived. (There was, however, a big rent-a-tent to provide shade from the sun/shelter from the raindrops.) After we collected our bibs we moved inside to pick up our shirts and check out the expo. Personally I LOVED all the colors for the shirts, and am also a fan of the soft technical fabric. (I’ve already worn mine several times since the race.)
2017 was the first year I went to Roanoke, Virginia for the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon, I had high hopes. Sure, the race has 7,430 feet of elevation change and goes up and down three mountains, but I was in relatively good shape even though I hadn’t finished the training program. At that point I was running about a half marathon a week, and I’d tackled really hilly races like the Tiburon Half Marathon (which has one hill that literally made me stop and laugh before I went up).
2019, Looking Back at 2017
One of the funniest things–at least to other people–is that this was a total DNF, but I raved to everyone about how great the race was. Everything was pretty much perfect, I had zero complaints. The pasta dinner had both vegetarian and gluten-free options–the first time I’d been to a pre-race feed with a gluten-free choice–and was followed by a course overview by the race director and some long-time runners. The starting line had corrals markers, and runners properly self-sorted themselves without any inadvertent walker roadblocks. The volunteers on the course were THE BEST. Aid stations had tons of people, all cheering, offering genuine warmth and support. Unlike an ordinary race, aid stations were more like trail races or ultras, with a variety of snacks salty and sweet, plus water and electrolytes. There are also plenty of “unofficial aid stations” offering everything from “moo-mosas” to beer to bottled water pods and orange slices.
Looking back, I remember the first climb up Roanoke Mountain was tough, but I felt great as I turned to go up Mill Mountain; I had just barely made the cut-off. I adored the view from beneath the big star, and the “moo-mosa” on the way down the other side of Mill Mountain. By mile 17 or so I wasn’t feeling so great. It was warm and humid, the two things my body dislikes most, and I was having trouble breathing. (I later learned that I have exercise-induced asthma. Go figure.) By mile 18, I was “wogging” with my own personal bicycle escort under some seriously black clouds. About halfway to the mile 19 aid station, my escort got word that the course had been black-flagged (that means the course is closed/race is officially off) due to lightning in the area. While a race cannot actually force you to stop running, they do have to make sure every runner is safe. Since I didn’t know the course, and wasn’t carrying enough to get through the next 7 miles, I boarded the bus back to the start. After all, I’m sure there are better ways to die than being hit by lightning on the other side of the country. Along the way we passed Jackie, my race weekend roommate, who was much closer to the finish. I think she only had three miles to go, and she refused to get on the bus.
A DNF Still Means I Had The Sads
Back at the hotel, I was seriously sad I had not finished the course, and even sadder after Jackie came back with her medal (even though I was also very proud of her for finishing). I took a hot bath and a nap, and after the storm passed we went out to dinner. I can’t remember where we went or what we ate, but it was delicious–as was breakfast the next morning before we left town.
Even though I hadn’t finished the course, I had one of THE BEST race experiences of my life. (The Blue Ridge Marathon isn’t just a race, it’s a weekend EVENT. More on that in another post.) The shirt was cute, the swag was great, the volunteers on the course were the best…the only thing “wrong” is that I hadn’t finished the race. So I signed up for the 2018 race. In between I changed jobs and moved to a different city, so I wasn’t able to make the race. It didn’t bother me though, as I know the money stays in the Roanoke area his event is owned and operated by the Roanoke Outside Foundation whose mission to make outdoor activity and environmental stewardship a core component of our community’s lifestyle by promoting a “conservation through recreation” philosophy. I’m good with that.
Funny story, I distinctly remember getting to mile 19, but all of my notes from 2017 say I stopped at mile 17…
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!
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!
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.)
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
D Café & catering
Angie O’Neal Designs
Charm City Noir
Buy From a Black Woman
Wyatt Family Dental
Urb’n Charm Jewelry
The Village Market
Vital Life Chiropractic
Natural Fit Designs
Livy & Sofie’s Natural Body Elements
South Fulton Running Partner
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?
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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 intellectual 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 Runnerand 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.
This 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 Rosariansand 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.
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.
Doing the Expo Early
Revel Mt. Hood‘s expo was in the Oregon Convention Center. (In a “aw, bless your heart,
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.
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, Aftershokzhad 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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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?”)
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.
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.
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?
Disclosure: I am a proud ambassador for Represent Running, the series that brought you the Inaugural Silicon Valley Half Marathon. Race ambassadors get some sweet gear and free race entries in exchange for promoting the races. (Of course I was so excited when I first heard about the race that I immediately signed up–seriously, did you see the swag?) OH HEY, you can already register for next year. Don’t wait CLICK AND REGISTER!
After the heat of the San Jose Food Truck 5k, I was really glad the weather cooled off a bit–especially because the race didn’t start at o’dark-thirty. I also really liked that part. There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep in a big fluffy bed, and then NOT getting up before the sun to go run the race. (Well, maybe I should have run before the sun got up…SPF 30+ is no match for my vampire-like skin’s reaction to the sun.) At any rate, I strolled from the Fairmont to the starting line, glad to have opted for the downtown San Jose experience. (Also for the CREAM sandwich I ate the night before: birthday cake ice cream on two sugar cookies. NOMNOM.)
The Starting Line
First I realized that my bib only had one dot–but it was supposed to have two. See, this weekend was chock full o’ bonus bling: a challenge medal for running both the San Jose 408k and one of the weekend events, and another challenge medal for running both days (the Food Truck 5k on Saturday and either the SV Half Marathon or the 10k on Sunday). One of the other Represent Running ambassadors pointed me to the problem fixer-upper tent, and a minor crisis was averted. (Do NOT get between me and my bling!)
After a bunch of clowning around at the starting line, I started to pay attention to the pre-race speakers. It may be kinda nerdy of me, but I enjoyed learning a little more about the work of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, the official charity of the race and its mission to prepare every student for college and careers, with a focus on STEM. If you don’t live in the area, you probably think of Silicon Valley as full of rich white guys–and it is, but there is also a sharp contrast between that impression and reality, which is that plenty of kids need help. It’s an expensive place to live, and there is food insecurity even among people who work “good” full time jobs. You can learn more about SVEF (and throw in some bucks!) here: https://svefoundation.org/donate/ There was also plenty of local love for bringing a big run back to downtown San Jose.
Out On the Course of the Silicon Valley Half
Speaking of a big run, San Jose has many running events throughout the year, but the Silicon Valley Half Marathon course was NOT a copy-cat course. Sure, it had some of the same streets, but the course itself as a whole was brand new. I particularly enjoyed the areas in the neighborhoods and near parks and schools. as it was quite warm and I needed shade! Every one of the water stops was fully staffed by great volunteers–this was not the kind of race where half of the water stop spots are filled by teens glued to their iPhones.
One of the fun things about an inaugural race is that you get to create all of the race stuff from scratch. Ordinarily, I don’t care about mile markers. (Frankly at most races they all look the same and are generic.) But there are lots of runners who selfie it up at every mile. So why not make the most of those selfies (since you know they’re going on Instagram)? The Silicon Valley Half Marathon made great mile markers, themed to various aspects of life in and around San Jose. Unless it’s a Disney race–where each mile marker is themed and plays music–I don’t take mile marker pictures…yet I have almost a complete set from this race.
Given that it was hot, and I was feeling tired even after luxuriating in my fluffy bed at the Fairmount, I knew I was not gunning for a PR. I started with the intent to run about half, and walk the rest. For the first few miles, I was leap-frogging with the 3:00 pace group. Around mile 4, I decided to tag along. Mad props to Too Legit Fitness for providing amazing pacers. (Seriously, go follow Too Legit Fitness on Instagram.) While I ultimately decided to slow my roll at mile 7 or so, the pace team kept me going on the 3:00 pace up to that point. I’ve only ever run with one other pacer I loved so much, but this race had a team! Like not just one runner with a sign looking at his watch. I don’t have any official scoop here, but there were two women passing off the timing stick, and their gigantic fan club/run group. It was super motivating! Also, there were a few additional people from the pack who checked in with everyone else who was running, handing off a little snack here or a sip of water there to make sure that everyone was still moving forward.
Setting The Pace: Too Legit
The pacers were so awesome that after each pace team finished, the pacers went back out onto the course to cheer in more runners. This might not matter at all to you if you’re a sub-2:00 runner, but for those of us in the “back of the pack” (you know, the ones most races ignore and forget to feed, or let the sponsors pack up and go home before we finish?) it was a really great perk. Starting about a half mile from the finish line, there were pace team members cheering and jumping around. Some took the time to walk or run for a block or more with incoming runners. It was really cool to see the pace team out there, after running a half marathon, still out there encouraging everyone.
Mad props to the entire pace team (and apologies for anyone I missed): Nando Gonzales, Fernando Loera, Randy Pangelina, Melissa Yamashita, Jill Ahearn, Eric D. Sullivan, Earl Hooks II, Jackie Silva Torres, Sylvia Loera, and Jimmy Quilenderino. You can find them all on instagram.
After the race, runners were treated to a post-race beer (actually I used mine to get sparkling wine–even better!) and live music. Lululemon provided little totes for each runner, which made it much easier to juggle the bling, banana, snacks, and bottled water at the finish line. The park was ideal for picnicking, and there were food trucks (and not the same trucks from the 5k but an entirely different set!). Plenty of runners brought their family and friends out to enjoy the music and food and beautiful day.
Other runner perks included a long-sleeve quarter zip (instead of a race t-shirt) that I just love (it’s a teal colored Leslie Jordan brand, super soft–you can see it on some of the folks in the starting line picture above), a sweet duffel bag, and FREE race photos, courtesy of race sponsor Amazon (who also had a photo booth on site, along with free sweat towels).
The park also had booths from all of the sponsors, and from local vendors selling both running-related items and items of general interest. Sparkling wine sponsor Barefoot had a booth tasting their new canned sparklers, in addition to beer and wine for sale at the beer tent. It made for a fun and relaxing afternoon.
On the plane home I started to think about the Silicon Valley Half Marathon 2019. Since the inaugural event had zero noticeable flaws, I’m sure word will get out and there will be many more runners in 2019. You should be one of them! Come join me–I’m going to register ASAP. (Note: you can actually register right now!)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?