San Francisco


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?

2015 is my third year with the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco half marathon. The race organizers got some things right from the first year, including runner transportation from the finish line to the start and copious amounts of pre-paid parking nearby.  Some things took just a little bit of a learning curve (such as teaching newer runners what a “bus box” is so they stopped freaking out and claiming they were “diverted” or “cut short”).

This year I made the very silly decision to run the second Livermore Half Marathon on Saturday and the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco on Sunday. I’m not sure I noticed the dates when I signed up for the events more than six months in advance. Yes, wine was involved–I’ll write more about Livermore later. Livermore and the after-party demanded a post-event shower, which demanded a post-shower nap. Suddenly it was time to leave for the expo if I wanted to get there before it closed. Yikes!

Expo Entrance
Expo Entrance

A quick trip to San Francisco later, I grabbed my bib and shirt. Per usual, no line. Next a walk through the Brooks shop with Rock ‘n’ Roll themed merchandise, Moving Comfort bras, and the very best shoe porn.

So very many cute things I managed not to buy!
So very many cute things I managed not to buy!

I’m quite proud of escaping without a new running wardrobe, since I love the blues and greens in this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll collection. The expo had a few things that were new to me, and some of the usual vendors. To my delight (and my wallet’s demise), there were also some surprises.

Is that a Clinique Bonus in your booth, or are you just happy to see me, Macy's?
Is that a Clinique Bonus in your booth, or are you just happy to see me, Macy’s?

True confession, I am a sucker for the Clinique bonus. Since I needed a new eye crayon and a less harsh lipstick for everyday wear, this was pretty much perfection. The best part is that it was right next to the booth I was actually looking for: Go Tape.

Go Tape comes in smaller rolls with pre-cut strips, and larger uncut rolls.
Go Tape comes in smaller rolls with pre-cut strips, and larger uncut rolls.

A friend turned me on to Go Tape. I’d tried kinesio tape a few times before, but somehow it just peeled right off around the edges so by the time the race rolled around it was less like tape and more like decorative flaps. Go Tape is sticky and stays put, so I was really happy to see them taping at their booth.

Go Tape pro-tapers, doing their thing.
Go Tape pro-tapers, doing their thing.

I had my shoulders taped by one of the pros taping that day. My tape-r was also an athlete. Turns out her “day job” is working as a doctor in the pediatric ER! I found out she had a sports injury while in school and was really frustrated that the kinesio tape available to her wasn’t sticky and would peel off before she was done with it. That’s why she loves to spread the Go Tape love. Clearly other runners have caught on, as people were still trying to get in line to get Go Tape-d even as the dudes in uniforms were trying to kick us all out of the expo. I grabbed a quick bite and a drink with another one of this year’s Rock ‘n’ Blog team, but naturally totally neglected to photograph it. Drat.

Thanks to pre-paid, guaranteed parking and a seamless shuttle system, I arrived at the starting line plenty early. (Earlier than I like to get up, in fact.)

O'dark Thirty in San Francisco
O’dark Thirty in San Francisco

The course starts right out at the beach, along the highway (which–fortunately for us–was not covered in sand as we started). That means less-than-gentle ocean breezes blowing through our bones as we waited and huddled for warmth.

Inching towards the starting line
Inching towards the starting line

It was a chilly morning, with many people opting to keep their “toss” layers instead of tossing them. It wasn’t long before we had all crossed the start and were working our way through the neighborhoods.

Did I mention the neighborhoods have hills?
Did I mention the neighborhoods have hills?

No bands in the residential areas, as no sane people are up at this hour (just runners). Everyone was looking forward to those gorgeous views of the Golden Gate, and we had scored some sweet, clear skies. We got a teaser look through the residential areas, before we hit…

Kind of a warning sign...
Kind of a warning sign…

A Hill. Not just any hill, but the great big one leading up to the smaller one that is the lead-up to the Golden Gate Bridge. Fortunately for the runners, this section of the course was OWNED by the San Francisco November Project. (If you don’t know who they are, you should.)

The November Project cheering tunnel
The November Project cheering tunnel

There were costumes, noise makers, signs, and plenty of hands to high-five, plus the bridge teasing us in the background.

It's left-side-cheer-tunnel by the November Project!
It’s left-side-cheer-tunnel by the November Project!

These are people who voluntarily get up at obscene hours for group workouts, so they understand the special kind of crazy that is running races. Mad props, guys! You made my race.

Not to be outdone, right-sided cheer tunnel decked out in bright duds
Not to be outdone, right-side-cheer-tunnel decked out in bright duds

Just past the November Project there was a designated selfie-station, complete with props and a faux Instagram frame.

The November Project rock band
The November Project rock band

Since I live close enough to go running in the Presidio pretty much any time I want to, it is easy for me to forget that this is DESTINATION race; even people who don’t stop for pictures stop for pictures.

Selfie-station even had a hastag
Selfie-station even had a hashtag

The course went up to the Golden Gate Bridge, and over it and back again. My phone’s battery was starting to run low, as was my energy (because running back-to-back half marathons with hills was not my best idea). I feared dropping the phone off of the bridge! Since you had to run out-and-back across the bridge, I had the opportunity to wave and yell HI! to my fleet-footed friends.

The view from "the other side"
The view from “the other side”

The course wound down the bridge exit and across Marina Green. Even with the Bay breeze’s chill in the air, there were at least a half dozen other things going on: big cycling event, smaller charity run, farmer’s market, and an assortment of random runners, cyclists, frisbee players, and very happy puppy dogs. Past the parks and back into the urban heart of San Francisco, around mile 9 I decided that coffee was definitely in order. (Hey, it worked for me in Dallas!) It wasn’t until mile 12 I found my opportunity to buy a hot mocha from a local establishment. I even got the extra whipped cream.

photo 5 (3)
I wasn’t “Quik” and neither is my mocha, but this somehow seemed appropriate…

Since I was seriously lagging, I missed all but the end of the concert (which is fine, as I was post-run-dazed and trying to absorb caffeine). The finish line had the usual assortment of salty things, bananas, chocolate milk, water, Gatorade, and the Michelob Light beer tent (which I skipped since I don’t do beer). There were also some fun additions, including a Sambazon mobile cafe! After thankfully accepting some bottled samples, I checked out the available açai bowls.

Acai you need some refreshment...
Açai you need some refreshment…

This was the first year I knew plenty of other people running, but didn’t traverse any significant portion of the course with someone I knew. Overall I think the Rock ‘n’ Roll crew did a great job with this race, and the gorgeous weather didn’t hurt. Now if I could just convince them to coordinate with the Livermore Half Marathon so I don’t end up with back-to-backs in 2016…

P.S. If you want to read more from the Rock ‘n’ Blog team, here are some options:

Pavement Runner on the course preview

Andrew Rich’s photo essay (much better pics than mine!)

Half Crazy Mama’s event recap

Do Things Always race recap with VIP (and much better pictures than mine)

If you’re a Disney runner, you want to be “Perfect.” If you’re a Nike runner, you want to be a “Legacy.” Many races have some version of this title, where a runner has run the race every year since its inception. First, it’s pretty cool to be able to say you have been there for every race. More important, races tend to provide special swag for these runners—sashes, special bibs, distinctive ribbons on the medals, gifts—as well as recognition in the program or on a banner. So running an inaugural race has its potential drawbacks, but also the potential for great reward. (True confession: I was thrilled to get an email from the Berkeley Half Marathon offering the Legacy runners an early registration opportunity!)

RnR SF shirt front

Last year I ran the Inaugural Rock n Roll San Francisco half marathon. While I had my complaints about both the race (a hill right before the finish line and seriously could it have been any colder?) and the series (discontinuation of the elite athlete program and additional fees for Tour Pass holders—both reversed after enormous public outcry), I couldn’t pass up the chance to eventually become a Perfect-Legacy-Whatever of the rock n roll world. (Okay, full disclosure: because the race sold out last year, I signed up to run 2014 at the 2013 expo—before the race.)

The 2014 publicity announced all sorts of changes. The biggest deal was the course change from a loop to a point-to-point. I’d expected a course change, since I heard Rock n Roll series was “stuck” with the 2013 course after purchasing the date and permits from another race organization. The new starting line was out by the beach, a public transportation dead zone (not that there is public transit that early in the morning anyway), and both the parking situation and the need to ride a shuttle to the start made me a little queasy due to less than ideal past experiences with both at other races. Fortunately the pre-paid parking I purchased at the Expo worked exactly as it should—I show up, there is a place for me to park—and the shuttle worked rather well. (My only shuttle complaint is that I didn’t ask for the number of the cute guy who sat down next to me.) As I got off the bus, I was MUCH less worried about the race. Grade: A.

RnR SF shirt design

But wait.

The starting line was a madhouse like any large race, but with plenty of porta-potties. (This is a factor NOT to be underestimated!) The race directors decided to allow the last corral to start first, giving them some lead time before the elite runners and the rest of the pack and to prevent them from getting swept on the Golden Gate Bridge, which had a hard re-open time (and at least a chance of hitting the finish line before the chocolate milk ran out). This seemed like a good idea to me, since the Rock n Roll races usually put about five minutes between corrals in order to keep the runners somewhat spaced out along the course. Sadly, it was the organizing team that spaced out, and not only did the last corral not leave early, it left after the published start time for the race. This was a critical error, but making it worse was the decision to not leave as much time as usual between the corrals. As a result, the last corral (which started first) was still thick and clumped together as the elite runners came speeding through, dodging and weaving to avoid taking out the slower runners. As a result, the first few miles were a big, hot mess. Grade: A for effort, D for results.

I wasn’t feeling particularly speedy and found myself trudging up San Francisco’s famous hills. Fortunately I plodded forward far enough to find my friend Lillie Goker. Lillie is one of the people I added to my personal circle of athlete-ninjas last year during my race to Earth in the Half Fanatics club. She noticed that we were both part of typically non-overlapping Facebook groups, and last year at the Rock n Roll Portland half marathon she introduced herself (“Bain? Hi, I’m Lillie!”) as she ran past. (On each of our best days, Lillie is much faster than I am.) We ran into each other at multiple races, from the Rock n Roll races in Seattle and Vegas to Disney World where we ran part of the Dopey Challenge races together. Since I went to many races only knowing 1 or 2 people from my immediate running group, it was great to get to know Lillie as we criss-crossed the country (simultaneously, but independently) and shared runs, usually bumping into each other randomly somewhere along the way.

To the average person, Lillie does not look like an experienced runner (marathoner!). Right now she doesn’t have a body like the Karas or Laurens of the world. During some races she takes extended walking breaks or does not run at all. What the average person can’t tell from looking at Lillie is that even though she’s still in her 30s, she has Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) and Atrial Fibrilation (AFib)—two potentially life-threatening heart conditions that she must vigilantly self-monitor—and the meds that help keep her safe aren’t exactly figure-friendly.

As it turned out, Lillie was not having a great race either. The San Francisco weather was cooperatively not freezing, and the skies were clear enough to reveal gorgeous views from the Golden Gate Bridge, but Lillie’s heart was acting like a feisty two-year-old complete with choruses of “I DON’T WANNA!” Since I pretty much only see Lillie at races, and I know it sucks to be all by yourself and having a hard race (been there, got the tech shirt) it was a total no-brainer to me: forget running hard, and enjoy the morning with Lillie (who reminded me multiple times that really, she’d be fine without me…it took me a few to determine she was concerned she was “ruining” my race, and not annoyed by my yapping!).

It would be exaggerating to say that EVERY other runner passed us, because we did not DLF (dead last finish); but when we reached the finish line, the chocolate milk was gone and the beer tent was populated by fewer than a dozen other runners (who had not, fortunately, consumed all the beer). That said, we both had as much fun as one can have at a race. We waved at Dr. Dribble as he ran by with his basketballs, I introduced her to my “Got The Runs?” crew as they came through, and I had a brief conversation with Pavement Runner (another athlete-ninja, but a fast one!). Lillie actively managed her heart condition and we enjoyed the day.

A good race for me is one where I enjoy myself and get to spend some time with friends. I can run faster on any day I want, but I can’t always see Lillie. Besides, I was having a pretty crappy race until I ran into her. Misery loves company? Maybe, but I’d say misery vanishes in the San Francisco sunlight in the company of friends. I’d say it was Perfect.

RnR SF Finishers Medal