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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock n Roll trucker hats
Some of the new trucker designs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Important Tips for Planning your 2019 Tour!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giveaway!

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

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

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mugs sporting the finisher medal design.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favorite of the Brooks shirts–great design!

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

 

 

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

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

#BlackSheepRun

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

My new favorite liquid fuel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Where else will I rock 2018?

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

It’s that season again! No, I don’t mean the season of shopping for holidays (that’s another post for another time), but the season for Ambassadorship Applications! Before you open every browser window and apply to all the things, pause; should you really apply to that program?

Disclosure: I participate in several ambassador programs, and have worked with others in the past. (You can see them all on my Integrity First page.) No brands, races, or ambassador programs have asked me to write about them. In fact, no one knows I’m writing this post except the people quoted/shown below–they got a preview. Everything here is 100% my opinion–but I’d love to hear yours, too!

What’s an “Ambassador”? If you grew up in the 1970s (or before), you remember tons of television commercial celebrity product endorsements. For some reason, people tended to have a better opinion of something if it had a celebrity endorsement–regardless of the quality of the product. While that is still the truth in some cases, celebrity endorsements are expensive and only available to brands with big dollars to spend. Also, most of us have grown a little jaded. First, we all know that the big brands are paying for “product placement” in movies and on TV (e.g. the Coca-Cola cups on American Idol, always set perfectly so you can read them). Second, many celebrities have started to endorse products and concepts that are not only disproven by science (e.g. that vaccines are a direct cause of autism) but also are potentially dangerous (e.g. pretty much anything any celebrity has recommended you put in your vagina). In recent years, brands and events have turned to their fans to help spread the word about their products and services. In a world where people rely on their friends and social media for information, this makes total sense–aren’t you more likely to try something you know your friend just loves?

While every ambassador program is different, in general ambassadors have specific duties they perform in exchange for free product, a free race entry, swag, and/or other perks. The majority of the ambassador programs I have seen refer to their ambassadors as the ambassador team, but many also have special names for their ambassadors that are associated with their products. For example, the Honey Stinger ambassador team is called The Hive, and the Tailwind ambassadors are Tailwind Trailblazers. Most product ambassadorships last for a calendar year, so November and December have a lot of application deadlines. (Race ambassadorships may follow the race’s “calendar year,” starting a few months after the race and ending on race day.) Some programs continue from year-to-year so once you’re “in” you’re in, though the majority don’t auto-renew–you have to reapply every year.

An ambassador program connected me to everyone here in one way or another

Should You Apply?

Do I love the product/event? If you don’t love it, don’t apply. Period. Ambassador programs only work well if the participants legitimately like (and use!) the product, or are genuinely excited about the race or event (which doesn’t necessarily mean you are a past participant). It’s not just about what the company gets out of it though: it reflects poorly on you to promote a product you’ve never used, or to promote an event you have no intention of doing.

Do I have realistic expectations? Do you know what also reflects poorly on you? Sour grapes if you’re not accepted! Every year I’m shocked to see tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts to the tune of “XYZ didn’t pick me to be an ambassador. Again. They always pick the same people. Whine, whine, gripe. I’m never using XYZ product/running XYZ race again!” While these comments don’t reflect poorly on the product/event/brand, they DO reflect poorly on the post-er.  The majority of ambassador programs have a limited number of spots and far more applications than they have places. If you apply to a program and are not accepted, you have no idea why–and it might not have anything to do with you! Maybe there were a large number of applications from your geographic area, and preference goes to people in other areas. Maybe your strength is on your blog, but they really needed a Snap maven. Maybe your main sport is running, but the brand wants to branch out into other sports. Maybe it just wasn’t a good fit from the team’s perspective. Just like colleges, and jobs, and awards, you don’t get everything you apply to. You’re not entitled to anything 🙂

Am I willing to commit to that product/event for the year? There are really two parts to this. One, it should go without saying that as an ambassador, you do not promote competing products or events. If you are an ambassador for Pro Compression, for example, you should be perfectly happy to NOT be on social media or at events wearing any competing brand (and even give a thought to giving away those other socks). I wrote “it should go without saying,” but I’m saying it because while it SHOULD, it’s one of those “common sense isn’t very common” things. Are you really serving Health Warrior if your social media is filled with Trader Joe’s chia bars?  Two, if you apply for an ambassador program you should be willing and able to fulfill all of the requirements for that program. Detroit Free Press/Chemical Bank Marathon Ambassadors, for example, are required to work a shift at the information booth during the race expo; Represent Running Ambassadors are required to work a packet pickup (unless they are remote ambassadors). If you’re unwilling or unable, don’t apply.

What are the ambassador program’s requirements? Every program has different requirements. You might be required to post a badge on your blog (if you have one), or to make announcements on social media channels to promote the product/event; create content for the brand’s website such as a photograph, review, or blog post; wear branded gear to events you attend/compete in; work at an expo booth to promote the race; create a post-event review; serve as a leader for a warm-up run; work at the event itself to ensure it runs smoothly; or any number of other things. Sure, life happens, and maybe you committed to an event before you knew you would be seven months pregnant and on bed rest, or nursing a leg broken in a skiing accident, or taking in your brother’s kids for the year, or laid off from your job and unable to travel to the event. Everyone gets that there are unforeseeables that might prevent you from fulfilling your duties and most programs will give you a pass if that’s your situation. As a general rule, you should be confident you can do what the program requires. Read the program description carefully, and make sure you understand the requirements.

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Can I live with all of the ambassador program’s restrictions? Again, it should be a no-brainer that you can agree to not promote competing products. Other restrictions vary widely by program. For example, the Bib Rave Pro Team members can only have a limited number of other ambassadorships. If the event’s sponsor is Adidas, you might be asked to avoid wearing gear with competing logos while you work at the expo. Again, read the program description carefully, and make sure you understand what you can and can’t do. If you can’t abide by the program’s restrictions, don’t apply.

Do I have the time/resources/bandwidth to fulfill the requirements and do a great job? If you have a full-time job and a full life, consider how much time and energy you have to devote to each of the programs you are considering. Even if you can wrap your head around 12 different ambassadorships at once, and somehow not give your blog more badges than a Girl Scout, most of us do not have the time to put into that many ambassador projects in a single year. Be realistic about what your other commitments are and how you will balance them with the programs you hope to work with this year.

Briana (of mat.miles.medals) met Dani, Libby, and Brandi through the Sparkly Soul ambassador program. New friends are one of the benefits of being an ambassador–and you already have something in common.

You WANT to apply, but will you do an awesome job?

Five guaranteed tips to be a rockstar ambassador!

First, Do All The Things. A great ambassador fulfills all of their requirements. Make a checklist and get it done! If you are required to work an expo shift or a promo booth, do the whole shift–seriously, sneaking out early isn’t cool–and if the event is really hard-up for help, consider offering to do another shift. Some things don’t have specifications, such as “help promote the race.” At a minimum, you should help spread the word for the big events (such as pre-registration specials, discount days, etc.), but think of that minimum as a floor, not a ceiling. The ambassadors might only be required to post one Instagram post, but creating two or three wouldn’t be that much more work. Just like in a team sport, as an ambassador you should strive to be an asset to your team.

I have had the honor to be a part of the Represent family for two years. The first year I was a posting fanatic and helped at as many packet pickup as I could. This second year life got in the way and I was only able to volunteer once (as per the requirements) but I felt guilty for not posting about the race events as avidly as I did the prior year. — Ashley of Every Runner Counts

Second, support your teammates! Lots of ambassador programs have some kind of forum they use to communicate. It might be a private Facebook group, a Slack channel, or a dedicated members-only website. Some are chatty, others are quiet, but all exist to help the ambassadors help each other. Every ambassador group has a wide range of people in it who differ in beliefs, sizes, preferences, and experience. When a new runner posts their new 5k PR, don’t ask if they crawled–congratulate them and encourage them to beat it. When someone is disappointed with a race result, don’t roll your eyes and tell them to get over it–say something kind, or keep your mouth (keyboard?) shut. Kindness is FREE, spread that sh*t everywhere.

Third, view every bit of swag and every perk as a gift. Many ambassador programs provide little extras, such as extra products, or gifts from race sponsors. Chances are that you’re not going to like everything–and you don’t have to–but think of everything as a gift and mind your manners. I’m a vegetarian, for example, so I really have no use at all for a bag of KRAVE jerky. I’m not going to eat it (it’s meat), and it’s not authentic for me to give a shout-out or otherwise promote it. If one of my ambassador programs mailed me a box of KRAVE, I wouldn’t mark the box “refused, return to sender” or make a big stink about how inappropriate it was in the ambassador chat group. Instead, I would ask the ambassador wrangler if it would be okay to pass the jerky on to a friend, if I should pass it on to another ambassador, or if the donor/sponsor/brand would prefer I return the package. Bottom line, you don’t have to love and adore every race sponsor or every bit of swag offered to you, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it either.

Remember that it’s an honor to be chosen, and use this opportunity to better get to know the people working for your brand and your fellow ambassadors. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had with the brands (trying new products, etc.). The experience with the people was a perk I didn’t expect going in, and I’ve made some wonderful friendships along the way that will stay with me beyond my time as an ambassador. —Briana of mat.miles.medals.

Fourth, stay positive. Nothing says “bad ambassador” more than talking smack about the brand you’re supposed to be representing! Be honest, but don’t trash the product/event. It’s okay to say you’re disappointed about ABC, or that a new product offering isn’t right for you. Frankly it can seem fake if you always absolutely adore every aspect of the brand/company/race you are representing.

Fifth, give honest feedback. (About the race, or brand, and about the ambassador program.) As an ambassador, you are in a position to hear feedback that the race director or brand does not. As Briana points out, “some brands tap into their ambassadors to get a temperature check of how a concept or idea might be received. Depending on the group, and your comfort level, you can elevate feedback to people who can do something with it. But remember to keep it constructive.” Finally, ambassador programs evolve each year, and the program managers are generally open to hearing about your experiences. What worked and what didn’t? I was frustrated when one race sent us flyers and posters to distribute–two weeks before the race. I loved it when another group moved from Facebook groups to Slack. Sharing your positive experiences, and providing constructive feedback about the not-so-positive ones, will help support the race or the brand by making next year’s program even better.

 

So…Should You Apply?

What’s your experience as a brand ambassador?

Which ambassador programs are currently accepting applications?

Disclosure: For the past few years I have been a member of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team, the ambassadors for the Rock ‘n’ Roll series. I’ve tried to blog about each of the races I’ve run, but I do have a day-job and there are only so many hours in the day…and thankfully posting about every race is not a requirement. The 2017 has not yet been selected (applications close on February 22nd, so if you are interested click HERE for the application), but I did apply. Just in case you’re not already aware of any potential bias I may have.

In New Orleans, bling happens

Don’t skip this one. I almost didn’t go to Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans due to stress at home and at work (and travel is stressful too) but man I am glad that I did! My flight left Oakland unreasonably early, and I arrived around 1 p.m. Pro Tip: if you’re just jetting away for the race and coming back again, pack light–check the weather first, but always pack something warm and dry in case of rain.

Friday I took a brief nap before my roommate arrived. We stayed at the Aloft, which is within walking distance of the half marathon starting line and not far from the marathon starting line. It was just a short walk to the convention center–and then another 2k to get to the other side of the convention center (it’s HUGE). Just before the convention center we picked up free samples of Monster’s new “Mutant” brand soda. I think this is supposed to compete with Mountain Dew, as it is a citrus-flavored soda in the standard 20 oz. soda bottle and packs 115mg of caffeine. Before cracking the lid I read the label–it also packs 290 calories and 70 grams of sugar! No, no thank you.

Rock ‘n’ Royalty

The Expo wasn’t huge, but it definitely had a New Orleans flavor, and more local participation than I see at many Rock ‘n’ Roll expos. Of course the ubiquitous green, gold, and purple of Mardi Gras featured prominently, and local running clubs and events had booths. I appreciated the healthy New Orleans resources (New Orleans is known for great food, but not necessarily health food), the bakery sampling (looked like King Cake, but was really a tiny croissant filled with cream and covered in sprinkles). As a New Orleans Mardi Gras krewe has its king and queen, so did Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans, complete with a coronation, confetti, and beads.

Missing our Hall of Famer, @matmilesmedals

Following the expo it was time to look for dinner. As I perused Urban Spoon and Google in what used to be the nook where the pay phones lived, a woman interrupted our discussion. “Excuse me,” she said, “are you looking for a place for dinner? Would you like some suggestions?” From a local? In a town known for amazing food? Heck yes!! We ended up at ___, which had a pan-Caribbean menu and everything from red meat to vegan dishes, plus a bar and amazing drink specials.

Like every other runner at Aloft, we too Lyft to the 5k. The location was perfect for a run, but less than ideal for actually getting there. One suggestion I’m sure LOTS of people made: provide transportation from central points in the various neighborhoods to the race start. We arrived as part of a convoy of Lyft and Uber and taxis. The starting line was just a short walk away. Also, it was freezing. I had packed for the weather that happened earlier in the week, and didn’t have an extra long sleeve for the 5k. Oops.

Me and “Gracie”

It was great to have Ann back to announce the races (she’d been out on maternity leave and while the guy who announced in her place was trying and did okay, he just wasn’t Ann). Prior to the race I ran into Derek, a Team RWB member who is continuing his quest to do a 5k every month, and my friend “Gracie” and her husband. The latter was something of a miracle, as we have repeatedly been at the same race but not managed to see each other. In lieu of trying to run any of it, I decided to walk to Gracie so we could catch up and have photographic rvidence of this monumental event. (Selfies or it didn’t happen, right?) The 5k was entirely within the park, whiich is freaking enornmous, The weather warmed up a little, but not too too much–my friends who ran were cold as soon as they stopped. The course passed by public art, a museum, and (of course!) music. I don’t claim to know what “the New Orleans sound” is, but I can tell you what the “I am a tourist here” music sounds like.

Obligatory hurricane in a geaux cup

I took a shower and a nap while my roommate did the swim and bike sections of his triathlon preparation workout, and then we wandered off to grilled cheese and a Rock ‘n’ Blogger meet up. From there I played tour guide–despite the fact I hadn’t been to NOLA since I lived in Austin–and we walked the French Quarter,  checked out the insane line at Cafe du Monde, and gawked at architecture. Tourist day, for certain. There were snacks, some down time, and dinner, and then it was an early night to bed for us.

The next morning came too soon, and it was off to the races–literally. There was what looked like a great turnout for the half marathon, with plenty of silly costumes and Rock ‘n’ Roll spirit. Miraculously, I saw Gracie again, and we started to walk the course together. Since I was still feeling tight and regularly seeing my sports med person, I didn’t want to try to kill it. This means I missed the mimosa “aid stations” but I can’t complain. I decided to Instagram as I walked the first six miles. Perhaps the rest of the story is best told in pictures.

Preventing waffle crush
This was voted “best race sign” by virtue of being all over social media pretty much instantly

 

Stately architecture
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I found Touchdown Jesus!

 

Runner buffet with bloody mary bar

 

Fun fact! Milk punch = milk + half and half + bourbon = no pain for at least 2 miles #questionablehydrationstrategy

 

Mobile bunny-petting aid station

 

HQ for the Mystic Krewe of Hermes, the longest-running night parade krewe

 

Cheer signs both political and traditional

 

Beer and Wieners aid station

 

Bet you didn’t know NOLA has a vibrant Celtic music scene, and many Irish dance schools!

 

Mobile disco party complete with dancers, DJ, and a disco ball!

 

Finish line at the park–check out the tree canopy!

 

Parting airport shot with @funnerrunner (telltale signs of runners: @addaday roller, @sparklysoul headband, matching @runrocknroll shirts)

 

Note: For the 2015 and 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll series, I have been honored to be part of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team. The 2017 Rock ‘n’ Blog team applications have not yet opened, so I haven’t a clue if they will decide to keep me on. In the meanwhile, I bought a TourPass so I could start to rock my way in the direction of Hall of Fame (15 Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathons or marathons in a single year). Fingers crossed!

Compulsory 5K selfie

It started off quite innocently. At the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas half marathon in 2015 I suddenly had a desperate hankering for coffee. Coffee isn’t a standard offering at any race’s aid stations. As I wrote in my race recap, “Around mile 9 I really, really wanted coffee. I’d had my electrolytes, downed my EnergyBits, and my body (even Ouch) seemed to be demanding some caffeination. For the next mile or so, all of the potential coffee-acquisition opportunities were on the other side of the road, across traffic. Cruel world! Then I saw it: Oak Lawn Coffee.”

 

 

 

Overpass detail of local art

Seriously, Oak Lawn Coffee MADE MY RACE that year (and not just because they let me use the bathroom too). I was so happy to have a cup of very yummy coffee in my hands that I finished the race with a huge grin on my face…and made a similar coffee stop at Rock ‘n’ Roll  San Francisco that year. Then I posed at the finish line with the Nestle Quik bunny because a mocha is basically chocolate milk, right? #buildit

(It’s good I’m not a triathlete, as I’m sure this counts as “outside aid” which is strictly prohibited by the triathlon over-see-ing group.)

It continued into the zone of silliness at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose 2016, where I was really, really hungry by the time I came around the corner to see Five Guys. (Pro tip: don’t order a large fries. For starters, the large is really, really large.) Not only was I laughing that I was walking the last mile or so of the race with a big ol’ french fries in hand, a lot of the spectators and other runners were laughing too. I laughed my way all the way to the finish line. As an adult, I think the ability to amuse yourself is seriously underrated.

Since this is a post about Arizona, here’s a picture of a succulent

Since I don’t run for time, a PR, or to podium in any way, I take full advantage of ways to make the race more fun. That’s why I do races–they are fun. When people ask me what my pace is, I literally tell them, “stop and pet the cute puppies.” If they ask again, I tell them, “approximately three puppies per hour.” (Having fun is serious business, after all.) I stop to take ridiculous selfies, just because I can. I run to the edge of the road and high-five the kids.

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A huge part of why I like races is getting to meet new friends

Let me pause for a minute here, and explain WHY I do this. No, it’s not just to annoy the snooty fast runners who dislike that I’m not “racing.” (They seem to forget that the fact that I–and thousands of people just like me–do dozens of races a year, seriously driving up the demand for running events, and as a result there are more races for the fast people to win. Fortunately, most of the runners I’ve met are awesome and are not whining about how “back in the day” we all would have been swept and not given a tee-short.) Sure, in part it is because I can–and the fact that I can amuses me to no end–but there’s a deeper reason: I am a bona-fide Type-A, overachiever list-maker, to-do doer, check-off-the-things person. It serves me well at work (and sometimes when I’m cleaning house), but I know if I applied my natural tendencies to running I would quickly sap every last ounce of joy from running, and instead of relieving stress running would cause more stress. So I have forbidden  myself to get “serious” about running. Running is for fun only. Of course, your mileage may vary–and I do admire those of you who focus on that BQ or PR or other abbreviations.

A slightly blurry pre-5k shot of me and Jackie and flat-Jackie

Back to Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona, since this is supposed to be a race recap. I had flown in late on Friday, so had to pick up my bib at the last minute (aka right before the race). A flock of volunteers were on  hand to assist with this process, there were no lines (did I mention we got there a bit late?), and I was quickly off to the starting line with my friend Jackie, aka my adventure running roommate. Jackie had to head to work shortly after the 5k, so she didn’t run. Of course technically neither did I, as I’d made a deliberate decision to stroll the 5k course and save some juice for the half marathon (remember, I did the Dopey Challenge the week before).

The 5k had a pretty good turnout of runners and walkers of all shapes, ages, heights, intentions, and experience levels. The weather cooperated, and I enjoyed looking at the desert in “winter.” Compared to the half marathon though, it was a much smaller race. For Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona, all of the races finish in the same location.

Question, readers: if you voluntarily, randomly decided to cut two miles from a half marathon by just skipping them, would you still take the medal at the finish line? Would you wear the race shirt? Would you tell people “I did a half marathon” when you only did 11ish miles?

On Sunday, the half and the marathon start in two different locations, but merge just before the very end. The morning of the half it was a little chilly and threatening to rain, but I managed to stay dry. This was my first time doing this course–previously I did the full–and I really enjoyed it. Jackie and I were in separate corrals, so I don’t have any running pictures with her. I do, however, have this picture she took of several people who decided they didn’t want to go up the hill to the turnaround (and it wasn’t even a big hill–and the views from the top were gorgeous–and Jackie asked what they were doing because, of course, maybe they were injured or something, but no, they told her they didn’t want to walk up up the hill); as a result, they cut about two miles off from the course. On the road, as in life, cheaters gonna cheat, and some people are just not willing to put in the effort to actually do the job.

Epic Donut Selfie

I will always do my best to finish the race I set out to run, until I finish, or am yanked from the course involuntarily. (If you find me face down on the pavement, be a dear and pause my watch, ok?) But that’s because I actually like races. Oh, but this is supposed to be a story about coffee and french fries or something.

Last fall several skirt companies put out skirts with donuts on them. Donuts are something of a running joke–like a joke among many groups of runners–and I’ve been known to say #runalltheraces then #eatallthefoods so naturally I needed a donut skirt. (In case you want one too, head to Chase This Skirt on Etsy. Go like ’em on Facebook, too.) This has led to many donut-photo shenanigans because, you know, donuts after a race always seem like a good idea.

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Post-race epic donut selfie with @crantina

If donuts after the race are a good idea–and extensive research has definitely confirmed they are–what about donuts during a race? Crazy, right?

That’s what I thought, as I was running down the road in Arizona, when I saw a donut shop right across the street. It was just sitting there, begging for me to befriend it. The open sign was on. I could imagine the scent of tasty donuts. After debating whether I should cross the street and grab a snack for about five minutes (good thing I’m slow, right?) when suddenly there was a  very long break in the traffic. No cars driving by, and no cars about to drive by for miles. Decision made.

I looked both ways–even though this was effectively a one-way street now (thanks, Mom)–and dashed across to Bosa Donuts. About the time I hit the front door a guy and the kid with him arrived at the door. He looked at me, decked out in race garb; he saw the bib, and gave me a quizzical look as he opened the door for me. “Life is short,” I said. “Choose joy! Eat donuts!” Bosa smelled like heaven should smell, and there was no line at the counter. As I politely asked for (runner brain kicked in, what is that thing called, the one there?) “one chocolate coconut donut, please” the guy and the kid arrived at the counter. “I’m buying,” he said to the lady behind the counter, and then turned to me, “get whatever you need.” I smiled and laughed, and explained that I only “needed” one donut. The lady behind the counter handed it to me in a bag.

I knew what I had to do:

Thank you, random Arizona guy!

As I took (much smaller than shown) bites and headed to the door, I noticed the puzzled looks from the folks sitting at the table eating their donuts. “Life is short,” I said. “Choose joy!” as I dashed out the door…and again looked both ways before I crossed the street.

Other runners were totally jealous of my donut (note for next time, I should get some to share) as it never occurred to them to get their own. Poor runners. I spent the next few miles laughing my butt off about my mid-race donut selfie, complete with actual donut. I couldn’t stop grinning. (Again with how underrated the ability to amuse yourself is.)

This is why I run, kids. JOY!

 

 

Disclosure: I am a member of the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Blog team. As a member of the team, I receive entry to Rock ‘n’ Roll races and other perks. This post is not sponsored, edited, or written (in any way) by the Rock ‘n’ Roll series or Competitor Group. All opinions are my own.

Most of the Rock ‘n’ Roll races are on Sundays. When there is a race on Saturday, ordinarily it is a 5k or 10k as part of a “Remix Challenge” weekend. Seattle is a different story: the main races are on Saturday. There is NO RACE ON SUNDAY. Since this is my third year running RnR Seattle, you might think I would have that figured out in advance. Or have, you know, looked at the date on the website or something. Big bowl of NOPE. (I even wrote it into my calendar as taking place on Sunday. #fail)

Who cannot remember which day the race is? This runner!
Who cannot remember which day the race is? This runner!

Most of the time when I travel for a Rock ‘n’ Roll race, I will stay all weekend, Friday to Sunday (or to Monday, as is my plan for Vancouver this year). Due to the amount of travel I’ve had lately both for work and for personal, the fact that my 19-year-old kittyboy now turns into Angry Kitty when I leave, and my general desire to have a day before the end of the month to do laundry and clean the house, this time I decided to just stay overnight, run, and go home. “When are you flying into Seattle?” Briana asked me. “Probably Saturday afternoon,” I wrote back, “I’m super busy and I think one night is better for me.” “Really?” Briana replied, “Um, you know you’ll miss the race if you do that, right?” DOH. Briana then reminded me that I made the same mistake last year (thinking the race was on Sunday). (She got it right, per usual. Check out her event review on Mat Miles Medals.)

This year I also made a brand-new mistake: I bought two sets of plane tickets for the same trip. After Briana reminded me I’d better make my trip Friday-Saturday (and not Saturday-Sunday) I hopped over to Southwest to make a reservation. It wasn’t until I went to the website to check in for my flight that I discovered I had apparently already purchased a Friday-Sunday ticket. Oops. Thankfully, Southwest has an awesome policy where they will hold funds for you from nonrefundable tickets, and I know I’ll be flying again, so no harm, no foul.

Thursday night I stayed up later than planned for a variety of reasons, but also managed to not pack for the adventure because I was pacifying Angry Kitty (who does not like it when I move things in and out of The Ominous Things On Wheels). Hey, he’s 19 years old and has put up with a lot throughout our 15 years together, so the least I can do is let him snuggle into my lap and snore, right?

Shoe game--on point--packed in Eagle Creek gear
Shoe game–on point–packed in Eagle Creek gear

Up at 4 a.m. to put things into the weekender. One of my top travel tricks is that I have a TSA-friendly ziploc bag filled with the overnight essentials (e.g. shampoo, toothpaste, lotion) that I never unpack. I also have a toothbrush in a travel case, a detangling comb, a pair of old prescription bottles (the orange-ish see-through kind) with the labels removed that are now filled with cotton swabs and cotton balls, and a travel-designated bath pouf that live inside the suitcase. When it’s time to pack, I just have to check that the essentials are all there (and not empty) instead of repacking. Eagle Creek was nice enough to give each of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team members a few bags that make my racing travel easier–a shoe locker for the shoes and small things, a gear locker for my clean clothes, and a fold-over for the dirty clothes–and I’ve got packing the things down to a science. (For the curious, this is the Pack-It Sport line.) Off to the 6: 30 a.m. flight at 5:30, and I was the last person to board the plane.

How tired was I? I was very excited to find a mini-sunblock spray to pack. For a race in Seattle.
How tired was I? I was very excited to find a mini-sunblock spray to pack. For a race in Seattle.

Two hours is barely enough time to catch a nap. I tried.

One thing I love about Seattle is there is pretty much no need to rent a car for the race. LINK light rail goes right to the airport, and downtown is criss-crossed by a variety of bus lines. I bought a reloadable Orca card (the better to not have to worry about keeping cash on hand for bus fares) and stuck $20 on it. It was a short LINK ride to Pioneer Square, which is exactly one block away from the Courtyard Marriott on Second Avenue (aka my Seattle home away from home). This is the second year I’ve stayed there, and I really love the x02 rooms (702, 802, etc.) because they are quiet and have a ton of space. Of course when you show up at 9:15 they don’t have your room ready, but they will store your luggage.

I hopped a north-going bus to meet up with Lillie Goker, a running buddy of mine who lives in Seattle. (We conquered Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco together in 2014.) She and I had brunch at this great breakfast place called Roxy’s Diner. I tried to find it on Google Maps, but it isn’t there. (Instead, look for Norm’s Eatery & Ale House, which is right next door.) After a night of really no sleep, it was great to relax over an eggy scramble with tater tots and a bottomless cup of coffee. We don’t get to hang out nearly enough, either.

Big race, big expo
Big race, big expo

Lillie lives nearby, and after a quick tour of her new digs, and a brief stop to hack some Ingress portals, she drove me over to the race expo. If you park in the parking structure, you end up entering the expo from the back, as opposed to entering where bib pickup is like you do in other cities. So we wandered through a little of the expo before we got to registration. The patterned totes from the Edmonton marathon were super cute, so I accepted one even though I’m unlikely to run it this year. (The race calendar is full. Maybe in 2017?)

The booth featured the same graphics as the tote
The booth featured the same graphics as the tote

Then Lillie helped me take a selfie (which I guess makes it not-quite-a-selfie?) with Elba Benzler, race director for Blooms to Brews (and a guest on Runner of A Certain Age, the podcast I now co-host, for a pre-race interview).

In case you missed it, I ran Blooms to Brews this year and LOVED it!
In case you missed it, I ran Blooms to Brews this year and LOVED it!

He’s also got a new event cooking, the North County Wine Run (first running: September 24, 2016). The medal is gorgeous, epic, and functional–so naturally I asked for a demonstration!

Have you ever seen a race medal that does THIS??
Have you ever seen a race medal that does THIS??

After picking up bibs and shirts, Lillie decided to call it a day and headed off to whatever it is that people do when they are not fixated on running. I stayed behind to wander the expo a bit before teh 3:00 #werunsocial meetup. (Actually, first I cased the joint to find an outlet to charge my phone.) Because I had decided that I was NOT going to buy anything at the expo, Nuun had to go and have a Seattle-specific water bottle. Guess who bought some more Nuun? I know, I know, way to stick to my resolve, but it’s something I use regularly, and it isn’t like it will spoil quickly. Besides, I was running low on cherry limeade. Then I came across the CEP booth, which tempted me with a good sale (I resisted) and a $10 copy of Meb for Mortals (I caved).

Seaplane, Space Needle, Guitar, Skyline...and green! How could I resist?
Seaplane, Space Needle, Guitar, Skyline…and green! How could I resist?

The #werunsocial meetup was a great time, as always. I am always glad to see Briana, Carleeh, Sarah, Carlee, Brian, Linzie…you get the idea. I remember I was so nervous at my first meetup that I forced myself to go talk to everyone about Run 10 Feed 10, and i was so nervous doing it that I accidentally gave the same spiel to one group of people twice! D’oh! Since then I’ve figured out that the cool kids are really nice, and I’ve made a bunch of friends. It makes travel to races even better, because I can always look forward to “running” into at least one of them. Pro Compression sponsored the meetup and donated some prizes, and after we took all the selfies there was barely enough time for me to hit my hotel for an all-too-brief nap.

Post-race, rocking my Pro Compression socks in BibRave Orange with A Major Award!
Post-race, rocking my Pro Compression socks in BibRave Orange with A Major Award!

I capped off the evening with dinner at Buca di Beppo, a pretty standard pre-race carb-fest for sure. This time the dinner planning landed in my lap, and I kept changing the number of seats on the reservation. In the end we had more seats than people (though in San Francisco it was the other way around, so I never know how it will shake out). I was quite happy the bus landed just a few blocks from the restaurant, as it started to drizzle as I was leaving the restaurant. Once I hit the hotel, I’d love to say I slept like a log for the few hours I had left to sleep. I didn’t. I’d love to say I love it when I’m sleepless for two nights in a row before a race…

Flat Bain, pre-Seattle
Flat Bain, pre-Seattle

All good Seattle stories end with coffee…and in the second half of this race review, you can enter to win some of your very own!

Disclosure: I forgot to put this on my Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio post. Oops. I am a member of the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Blog team, and as a team member I am rocking a TourPass. Despite the name, being a member of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team does not obligate me to blog about each race (or do anything else in particular regarding race recaps). As always, all opinions–and every single word in this post–are exclusively mine.

Rock 'n' Blog discount code for YOU!
Rock ‘n’ Blog discount code for YOU!

When Briana and I first saw The Lone Star Legend at the Heavy Medals display in San Antonio,  we knew we had to have it. The medal is about as Texas as you can get–shape of the state, check; Texas flag, check; a lone star, check–and since I frequently find myself running for shiny objects, I immediately declared “in.” Plus I ran the Dallas Remix in 2015 and figured it would be a good excuse to see friends and family.

My favorite spectator sign this weekend
My favorite spectator sign this weekend

Friday I got up entirely too early to fly to Dallas, catch DART from the airport to the hotel, and crash for a little bit. The nice thing about the Dallas Remix is that if you choose a hotel within walking distance of DART, you don’t need a car at all. After Briana arrived we had a quick bite to eat at the hotel and then headed over to the expo. I love the Friday expo, since there are almost never any lines when the marathon or half is on Sunday.

After picking up both of my bibs and shirts I did a quick cruise around the expo. (The Dallas expo was a little difficult to find, since an auto show had taken over most of the convention center and there were not a bunch of big signs. Fortunately, DART goes right to the convention center, and there was a parade of people with Rock ‘n’ Roll bags…so we all just made like salmon.) Like last year, I found the Dallas expo smaller than most Rock ‘n’ Roll expos. Sad to say, this year there was no Dunkin’ Donuts coffee! There was a ton of cute stuff for the race, but I’m trying to be fiscally responsible this year. My closet is basically filled with running clothing, and there isn’t much I need–so if I bought something, when would I wear it??

Flat Bain for the 5k--short sleeves!
Flat Bain for the 5k–short sleeves!

Then there was dinner. One of the things I really love about the Rock ‘n’ Roll series is that so many people with TourPass go from race to race. Last year I made a ton of new friends, and now I’ve always got a group to eat dinner with while I’m on the road. (In fact, I ate with a bunch of the same people again in San Francisco.) Dallas has a bunch of great, interesting places to eat all within walking distance of the downtown hotels. Finally there were the obligatory flat-me “selfies,” and there was sleeping, and suddenly it was time to get up for the 5k.

 

 

This coffee was NOT optional
This coffee was NOT optional

Since it was now Saturday, and I’d packed for the weather they were predicting on Thursday, the first step outside was sad–windy AND chilly! We headed over to the DART station when I saw my savior: 7-Eleven. They sell garbage bags! I had just enough time to buy a 12 pack and jump on the train, where I made some new friends. DART dropped us off right at Fair Park–though the station closest to the stadium, where the race started, was actually the next stop over–and we headed to the starting line. Lots of runners were huddled together, so it was time to make new friends. I actually met several people who were going to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas half marathon in the morning and then hop a plane to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mexico City half marathon in the evening! (They called it the Tex-Mex combo. Salsa not included.) By the way, you can hear a great race recap with one runner who first heard about Tex-Mex at the Dallas expo, signed up, and drove home to get his passport! Check out Runner of a Certain Age.

Cotton Bowl selfie. Yes, I wore my Buff over my head, neck, and ears for the whole race.
Cotton Bowl selfie. Yes, I wore my Buff over my head, neck, and ears for the whole race.

The course around Fair Park is not the world’s most exciting, but access to Fair Park is easy by DART or car. If you are a local, you’ve likely already seen all the things there are to see at Fair Park, and the course is going to be a bit of a yawn–think of it as a shakeout run for the half marathon. On the other hand, if you are a local with kids who are ready to do 3.1 miles, this is a great race since it has tons of parking, doesn’t require travel, and has all the party amenities of Rock ‘n’ Roll. (I did hear some people complaining about finding parking, but these were family/friends who came to pick up runners at the end of the race. This year there were several other large events going on in Fair Park that started around the time the race ended, so that may have contributed to the griping.)  I saw tons of kids who were clearly running with mom and/or dad (or both!), and later proudly wearing the medals they earned. Start ’em young!

Did you know Fair Park is the only intact/unaltered pre-1950s world fair site remaining in the United States? I love checking out the 1930s art and architecture.
Did you know Fair Park is the only intact/unaltered pre-1950s world fair site remaining in the United States? I love checking out the 1930s art and architecture.

Personally, I liked running around Fair Park. This was basically the same course as last year, only run in reverse. The course itself is quite flat, and half nifty and half meh. This year the nifty part–the grand WPA-era pavilions and buildings, reflecting pool, carvings and murals–was first. The “meh” part is an out-and-back along the seasonal rail line that runs through the big parking lot on the back side of Fair Park. I’m not local, so I could be wrong, but I don’t know that there are any viable alternatives to this course, beyond turning it into a two-loop course. It seems like there just isn’t enough real estate to make 3.1 miles happen (evidenced by the “everybody gets a PR!” phenomenon caused by a course that everyone I talked to said measured quite short–2.7 or 2.8 miles vs. 3.1). I like the Fair Park location though, due to easy access via DART or car, plenty of parking, and convenient for those who planned their hotels around the half marathon location.

It is such a shame we no longer build edifices like this.
It is such a shame we no longer build edifices like this.

The aid stations had water (maybe Gatorade? I’m writing this a month later, and I don’t think I took anything but water, personally). At the finish line there were bananas, water, Gatorade, chips, and other snacks. The finish line also had a beer tent for those over 21 with the Rock ‘n’ Roll sponsor beer, which I think is Michelob Ultra again. (I don’t drink beer.) There was a concert, of course, with plenty of room to dance (and lots of the kids who ran their first 5k were dancing like little rock stars)

While I could have lived without the out-and-back section around the parking area, it’s tough to get 3.1 in within Fair Park itself, on paths/sidewalks wide enough to hold a race. Fortunately I ran into several other people I knew or had previously met, and got to say hi to Derek Mitchell on my way through that section, so I enjoyed it anyway. (When a race gives you lemons, add vodka!)

Bottom line: as I said on my BibRave.com review, this is not a “destination 5k.” While it is a fun event, and I enjoyed meeting other runners and using it as a pre-half marathon shakeout run, I would not have made the trip JUST for the 5k. If you’re local and want a party-like 5k, and don’t mind the course, this is a good choice.

WeRunSocial meets SweatPink
WeRunSocial meets SweatPink

The rest of Saturday was a whirlwind of activity. We took DART back to the hotel, with several bewildered locals curiously observing all the runners. I was still tired from Friday, so it took me forever to shower and put on clean clothes…and so I missed most of the epic #WeRunSocial meetup. I arrived just in time for the “we need photographic proof we made it” latecomers, ha ha! From there, Briana and I headed to BeautyCon Dallas, which just happened to be taking place at Fair Park. (More on that later.) From there, we made a trip to Target for warmer duds. Seriously, Target is my savior when it comes to changing weather and travel. If they don’t sell it, I can’t possibly need it. I scored tech fabrics on the clearance rack! Then it was off to another group dinner before hitting the bed early to get some precious sleep!

Flat Bain for the half marathon--note the long pants, long sleeves, and gloves!
Flat Bain for the half marathon–note the long pants, long sleeves, and gloves!

Sunday morning came WAY too early. (Why do races have to start so darned early??) On our way to the starting area I was still debating whether to check my jacket, but decided to keep both long-sleeved layers due to the WIND WIND WIND. I did eventually let go of my recycled heat sheet, but only because it’s hard to run dressed like a baked potato.

The course this year was NOT the same as last year. I’m sure the changes were based on runner feedback, because the Rock ‘n’ Roll series does take that seriously. The new route did not go over the torn-up and pothole-ridden roads, which made me happy. The start and finish were also in a different location, near Reunion Tower. I don’t know the city well enough to explain the rest of the course changes. While I was bummed to not run by Oak Lawn Coffee (where I enjoyed an epic mocha during last year’s race), I didn’t miss the roughed-up roadways. Note to runners: fill out those post-race surveys, and review your races! Race directors generally do want you to have a good race and enjoy it. If there is something you don’t like, point it out! Good race organizations do respond to critical feedback.

Epic Bridge Non-Selfie
Epic Bridge Non-Selfie

As I mentioned, race day was VERY WINDY. Like you could “lean in” it windy. Comically windy (but not funny as you ran into the wind and crossed the final overpass/bridge). It seemed like no matter which way the course turned, the wind was in my face, never at my back. I don’t know if the wind was the reason, but this year the course did not have the giant neon Texas-themed selfie stations, the Texas backdrops, or the bands with huge sets (like the one that had an entire BBQ joint, complete with smoker, in 2015). While waiting to jump into the corrals many runners huddled inside the nearest buildings to wait for their corrals to start. I was really hoping for warm as I made my way along the course. Nope.

In my experience–as a mid-to-back-of-the-packer–course support was up from last year, with more families and random cheering people than last year. Aid stations were on point and well-stocked, though as usual I wish half marathons put their first fuel option earlier on the course. On course entertainment included local cheerleading groups, bands, and other performers–including the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at the finish line!

Epic Donut Selfie
Epic Donut Selfie

About that “flat course”…the course was not truly flat, but it wasn’t technical or super challenging either (hills led up to, and down from, the bridges). The course was fairly flat, on balance. Just like last year, we ran over the almost-brand-new Margaret McDermott bridge, an architectural beauty that inspired hundreds of selfies. (I didn’t take them all, but I did have to dodge several people who came to a dead stop right in the center of the road.) While I assume the city’s whims played a role in course development (in case you’re not aware, host cities can pick and choose which streets they will let you close, and for how long, and place other conditions on the race permit), it seemed to me like the course was designed to show off many different aspects of Dallas. We ran through some areas that were clearly under urban renewal, and some areas that looked a lot like the suburban town I grew up in, complete with parks and ball fields. We ran over what are ordinarily heavy traffic streets and a freeway (literally over that one, as we were on the bridge), and down quiet neighborhood streets. I really like it when a race course tries to show all the facets the location has to offer.

Bottom line:  I like this race as it gives me an excuse to see my extended family over the weekend. It’s also an early-season Rock ‘n’ Roll race, and one of my first opportunities to meet up with my runner peeps from other states. I’d be more enthusiastic about the race except for the WIND WIND WIND (which wasn’t an issue last year). Assuming I decide to try to go for Hall of Fame next year, I’ll probably be back.

The Bling is Bigger in Texas!
The Bling is Bigger in Texas!

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas Remix was my first Tour Stop of the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll season. Up next: San Francisco!

 

 

#runalltheraces #earnalltghebling
#runalltheraces #earnalltghebling

This past weekend I rocked Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas for the second year in a row. While I wasn’t originally planning to return to Dallas–even though I loved the races, spring is really busy–but it quickly became a must when Rock ‘n’ Roll announced the Lone Star Legend. (Seriously, I like my running bling.) The medal prototype debuted at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio expo and, like the Desert Double-Down, is a cross-year challenge: first run San Antonio (typically December) and then run Dallas (typically March). The reward? A Texas-shaped, glittery medal, complete with a spinning Lone Star.

The only thing Texans love more than the shape of their state? The Texas flag.
The only thing Texans love more than the shape of their state? The Texas flag.

San Antonio 2015 was the capstone to my 2015 Rock ‘n’ Roll season: Rock ‘n’ Roll #11! For my friend Briana, it was also her tenth race, earning her the Gold Record. Briana’s friend Maria and our mutual friend, and Rock ‘n’ Blogger, Andrew joined us again, and the three of us all had the luxury of the VIP experience for the half marathon. The weekend began on Friday, with a quick bib pickup at the Expo. Well, it SHOULD have been quick, but one of the brilliant runners accidentally neglected to register for San Antonio and didn’t figure that out until after arriving at the Expo. Oops. This is the one hazard of having a Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour Pass–it’s easy to plan out your race calendar and then forget to go actually sign up for the races. Fortunately the Rock ‘n’ Roll team was quick to help me out, get me registered, and issue some bibs and shirts. There is a special bonus bib for Gold Record, and Briana was excited to pick it up.

By the time I’d fixed my “I forgot to register” problem, we didn’t have much time to explore the Expo. There was just enough time to snap a few quick pics of some of my favorite gear before the Expo closed and the runners were ushered out.

Orange Mud gear on sale at the Rock n Roll San Antonio Expo
Orange Mud gear on sale at the Rock n Roll San Antonio Expo
Cute food tastes better.
Cute food tastes better.

We then headed out to dinner. San Antonio is a good place to eat. Briana had a recommendation for dinner, and everything we ate there was amazing. Naturally we celebrated with a drink (when in a Tex-Mex restaurant, a little celebration is in order). After dinner we wandered down to see the lights on the River Walk, and run a few errands. Maria has a tradition of drinking pickle juice prior to every race in order to ward off cramps. I think pickles are gross, and find this a little disgusting, but there is science behind it. Plus I needed to pick up a few things at the drugstore. Turns out it is impossible to find jars of pickles downtown. We ended up talking a local Subway out of a little cup of pickle juice, and headed back to the hotel. I’m pretty sure we crashed instantly.

Saturday morning was the San Antonio 10k. The Rock ‘n’ Roll series has been adding 10k and 5k races in some markets, both in response to demand for shorter races (not everyone wants to run a half marathon), and to create the Remix (two races, three medals–no brainer for most of us who were going to do the half already). The 10k is sort of  sweet spot for me–I hate the first 2 miles of every race, so the 5k isn’t as much fun as the 10k. We got gorgeous weather for the run, and after many races that were hot or cold or wet or windy in 2015 I felt pretty spectacular. The 10k finishes right in front of the Alamo, where there was live music for the beer garden. Since San Antonio is the last race in the Rock ‘n’ Roll season, general shenanigans ensued.

Jimbob demonstrating how to drink like a Hall of Famer
Jimbob demonstrating how to drink like a Hall of Famer

Turns out that gigantic Hall of Fame medal makes a lovely drinking cup/shot glass. At one point a line of Hall of Famers that drank their Michelob Ultras out of the backs of their medals, but I wasn’t fast enough on the draw with my iPhone. (For those who are not aware, Michelob Ultra is the official beer sponsor for the Rock ‘n’ Roll races in the United States, so that is the only beer available at the finish line. Other beers might be available in VIP at certain locations, but since I don’t like beer, I haven’t researched that for you. If you run in Vancouver, there are local microbrews instead.)

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, I toast with java!
Sometimes, I toast with java! (Coffee over breakfast tacos.)

Smart folks that we are, we then hustled off to get breakfast tacos (and coffeeyescoffee). Between the other runners with their medals, and a group of re-enactors in period garb, it was a colorful brunch. (Also a loud one–muskets don’t come with silencers, and we started before the re-enactment ended.) I’m not sure why the rest of the country has not caught on, but it seems like the only place to get a proper breakfast taco is the part of Texas encompassing Austin and San Antonio. I’ve come close, but never quite hit perfection.

After lunch there was just enough time to shower and change, and take a quick stroll through the rest of the Expo (replenish my Nuun stash, etc.) before I had to lay down and rest my legs a bit. I had every intention of going to the Hall of Fame ceremony, awarding a special framed gold record to the runner who did the most Rock ‘n’ Roll races during the year, but I was exhausted from the prior week and suddenly it was time for dinner. Initially we attempted to meet up with a group of fellow fly-to-runners, but we had a little car issue and by the time we arrived our seats had been given to people on the wait list. Regardless, it was pasta time! (Yes, I know, most of us non-professional, not-running-to-place runners don’t need to “carb load.” I respect the science, but I also like pasta.) Dinner was delicious, and more moreso by the company of Briana and Andrew, since we’d shared various Rock ‘n’ Roll adventures since the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona in January.

 

Pre-race vegetarian eats
Pre-race vegetarian eats

All three of us had VIP for the half marathon (for me, as one of the perks from Rock ‘n’ Blog). We took a Lyft or an Uber over to the stadium early enough to enjoy some of the brunch amenities: bagels, peanut butter, toast, bananas, fruit platters, and I think some other stuff….I eat vegetarian, which was fine for breakfast since I typically don’t eat much before a race (but explains why I might not remember some of the breakfast food). Most important, COFFEE. The corrals were not that far from the VIP tent, so we didn’t have to rush out too soon. I actually walked to the corrals, reconsidered my clothing layers, and went back to bag check before heading back to the corral. I loved the smaller VIP-only bag check, as well as the VIP porta-potties (no lines, hand-washing station, extra paper towels and feminine hygiene supplies).

Each race’s VIP comes with different perks, so it’s important to read what the VIP experience offers for each market. In San Jose, for example, VIP was held inside a nearby restaurant, while in Dallas and Virginia Beach the VIP area was in a hotel. San Antonio also had VIP parking (close-in, included with each VIP) and a post-race massage area. The VIP tent offered shade (which I appreciate as a white girl who burns just thinking about the sun), and had table-seating. I didn’t take advantage of the post-race massages (they are first-come, first-served and I came in pretty late, plus I didn’t have ).

San Antonio has both a full marathon and a half marathon. I was completely done with marathons by the time December rolled around, plus I had the Dopey Challenge in front of me, so I ran the half. You don’t usually think of San Antonio as hilly–at least if you don’t live there, or haven’t been in awhile–but trust me, they are there! Fortunately also there were the students and faculty from Trinity University, who served as excellent cheerleaders and had some of the best signs I’ve seen. I didn’t take many pictures along the course, but again the weather was lovely and the course support was great!

Did I mention Trinity is atop a BIG HILL?
Did I mention Trinity is atop a BIG HILL?

 

The department-specific signs were hilarious!
The department-specific signs were hilarious!

 

Trinity isn't a huge school, I think every student and staff member was out cheering
Trinity isn’t a huge school, I think every student and staff member was out cheering

After the race, I met up with Andrew and Briana in the VIP tent. I’m not much of a complainer in general, but I have one HUGE complaint about the VIP tent’s post-race food: none of it was vegetarian! Yes, I understand I was in Texas, and Texas is the home of Team Beef (this is really a thing), but I was a vegetarian when I lived in Texas, and I’ve never had a problem finding things to eat. My choices at the post-race VIP food were extremely limited. I remember wilted lettuce leaves that appear to have been the serving platter decoration for something else (as the platter was empty). There may have been brown banana pieces (brown from sitting out for 5+ hours between pre-breakfast and when I finished the race), but the rest of the breakfast food was gone. There weren’t even Power Bars or potato chips (though I did eat the ones handed to me when I crossed the finish line). I was very, very upset about this–and remember, I got my VIP as a Rock ‘n’ Blog perk, so just imagine how I’d feel if I’d paid full price! I even asked the servers if there was any food without meat. Seriously, there were chicken enchiladas and beef enchiladas, but they couldn’t make cheese ones? Or haul out any breakfast leftovers? But the servers said, Nope! NO FOOD FOR YOU. This is really bizarre since on average, 10% of the population eats vegetarian outside of the home (whether they are vegetarian, vegan, limiting meat intake, keeping kosher, keeping halal, or for other reasons). This was a gross oversight. I’ve done everything in my power to bring this to the attention of management–I’ve tweeted and repeated, slathered it all over facebook, put it on my race feedback form, put it out there to the Rock ‘n’ Blog wranglers–and expect them to correct it for this year. (If not, they can expect me to have pizza delivered AND send them the bill.)

What did the VIP tent have for me post-race at San Antonio? Champagne. Let’s just say it is a bad idea to refuse to feed me but then give me champagne.

One Hall of Fame plus Three Gold Records
One Hall of Fame plus Three Gold Records

Naturally there was also an obligatory Gold Record shot. I tried to wrangle more people for a Gold Record and Hall of Fame photo, but it turns out many of those folks are gluttons for punishment and were running the full marathon. Many of them met up at the Expo for the Hall of Fame ceremony, but I was trying to pick a time when those getting their Gold Record at San Antonio could also join the photo. So I only managed to snag one Hall of Famer.

In between champagne, Nuun-tinis, and orange juice, we got to meet the third place men’s overall finisher for the marathon, Jose Roberto Zavala Calderon. Race officials were trying to explain that they were going to go get his award, but they didn’t speak any Spanish and the message was getting mangled. By that time I’d had sufficient champagne to jump in with my espanola semi-gringa and fix the situation. Jose turned out to be a super nice guy who didn’t mind my mangled Spanglish.

Check out that overall award!
Check out that overall award!

 

Would I do San Antonio again? Well, if I play my calendar correctly, San Antonio could be half marathon #100 for me…stay tuned for more!

 

P.S. I’m definitely ordering a pizza sent to VIP post-race!