Toyota Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon Race Recap

Boy is this race tough.

I arrived in Las Vegas late Friday night (well, late Chicago time), long after the expo had closed. I went to the expo Saturday morning as a result, which proved to be good decision. It was the least crowded I’ve ever seen that expo (I went in 2016 and 2017, even though I didn’t run the race in 2016 due to my booted foot) and it made the whole experience 100 times more enjoyable than usual. 10/10.

rnrlasvegas2018packet

Having learned a lifetime’s worth of lessons the hard way during last year’s race, I made a point of trying to be more intentional about my nutrition and hydration leading up to Sunday night’s run. I carried a water bottle with me everywhere in Vegas and kept it light at breakfast (around 11 a.m.) with two small pancakes and two scrambled eggs. At 3 p.m., two hours before I thought I would start running, I had a bag of off-brand Pirate’s Booty (“Sailor’s Loot,” lolololol) and a bag of animal crackers I got at the expo that added up to somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 calories. That all worked out WAY better for me in the stomach department than last year’s pancake binge at breakfast and couple of handfuls of Munchies as I headed out the door to the race, so I’ll file that away for any future late afternoon/early evening half marathons 😛

It was much colder in Vegas than I expected based on the past two years (I don’t think it ever got out of the low 60s while I was there, and at night it was down in the 40s. There was actually a freeze warning on Monday!). I figured I’d be fine for the race in shorts and short sleeves, but when Rock ‘n’ Roll sent out an email a few hours before the race warning about high winds, I started to panic. I didn’t have any throwaways, anything that I could adjust while running (a jacket, arm sleeves), and I was in the second wave, while the other person from this year’s group who was running the race (four of us went to Vegas, but only two of us ran) was in the first wave, meaning we’d arrive well before I started running. I worried I’d be overly cold. I ended up begging a long sleeve shirt off my running buddy, but once again, lesson learned. I can’t forget to pack my arm sleeves in the future!

I’ve run enough Rock ‘n’ Roll races over the years (eight, counting Sunday) to feel comfortable saying that Rock ‘n’ Roll is, hands down, the worst race organizer when it comes to corral enforcement. Even after Ironman bought Rock ‘n’ Roll, your corral assignment seems to be a weak suggestion at best. While other Rock ‘n’ Rolls I’ve run have been laughable when it comes to corral enforcement, Vegas truly set the bar for unbelievably terrible corral management.

Vegas has a pre-race party, and my assumption, especially since I was never told otherwise, is that the pre-race party is optional. In my entire running career, no one has ever made attendance at any events surrounding the race (other than packet pickup, of course, but that was taken care of at the expo) mandatory, and when attendance at any event surrounding a race is mandatory, you’re informed well in advance, usually multiple times.

I had no interest in going to the pre-race party. I didn’t need to check any gear. There are abundant bathrooms in every hotel up and down the Strip with running water and flushing toilets, making a pre-race portapotty stop unnecessary. The last thing I want to do immediately before running a half marathon is attend a concert. Why on earth would I prioritize going to Rock ‘n’ Roll’s pre-race party when there is literally no reason for me to be there?

My running buddy didn’t have interest in the pre-race party either, so we left our hotel (Harrah’s) around 3:30 and started walking south to get to the start line, which was slightly north of MGM on the east side (the MGM side) of the Strip. When we got to Harmon, we saw a stream of runners heading towards the start line, so we, along with everyone else walking south on the Strip with us, joined the stream.

WHAT. A. MESS.

As we walked, it became quite clear that most of the people in the stream were in the blue (first) wave of the race. My running buddy had been assigned to the blue wave, so that was fine, but I was technically in the green wave. As always, Rock ‘n’ Roll was bold, italicized, red font serious about not allowing people into corrals that did not correspond with the color on their bib, but was there anyone checking our bibs where we got in the stream to make sure we all belonged there? No. So I was able to sneak into the blue wave 1) without meaning to and 2) without realizing I was getting into the wrong wave.

Eventually, it occurred to us that all of the bib checking/”security” to get into the corrals must have been located somewhere in the pre-race party, but if that was the case, that was never communicated. This is what my pre-race information sheet said:

rnrlasvegasgreenraceday

Now, I will concede that it says to arrive at the Start Line Village by 3:30. Fine. But NOWHERE in this document does it say that you have to go to the Start Line Village prior to the race. It’s commonplace for races to suggest that you arrive by a certain time, but to my understanding, unless that time is when your corrals close, you don’t actually have to arrive then. I’ve read that whole document through several times, and I cannot find anywhere where it says that you must go to the Start Line Village (aka the pre-race party) in order to get into the corrals. It’s pretty obvious that Rock ‘n’ Roll has no problem highlighting text they don’t want you to miss, so if going to the Start Line Village was a requirement, why wouldn’t they put that in this document?

On top of that, the document does specifically say that “Entrance to the GREEN START CORRALS will be on Las Vegas Blvd north at Harmon Ave.” Now, call me crazy, but when I read a sentence like that, I assume that I enter the corrals on Las Vegas Blvd. (the Strip), not from the pre-race party.

“But Bethany,” you argue, “you were getting into the blue corrals. Maybe they had different instructions!”

They did, but those instructions still didn’t say anything about mandatory attendance at the pre-race party to enter the corrals:

rnrlasvegasblueraceday

Once again, the instructions here are to enter the corrals “on Las Vegas Blvd.” That’s not the Start Line Festival. That’s not Harmon, where we found the stream of people. That’s the Strip.

So, fine. Let’s give Rock ‘n’ Roll the enormous benefit of the doubt and say that their pre-race documentation was accurate and clear, and I’m just an idiot who makes too many assumptions and can’t read for comprehension. Putting all of that aside, the corral situation was STILL a disaster, even if you followed the directions about entering them, because they filled in from the back, with no delineation between any of them. There were no gates, no ropes, no volunteers, nothing. The entire thing was completely self-policed, and you know how THAT always ends up going. My running buddy was supposed to be in Corral 10, but by the time we reached what appeared to be Corral 12, it was so crowded that we couldn’t have moved up any farther even if we wanted to.

I’m not aiming to break any world records at any of these Rock ‘n’ Roll races, least of all at Vegas. But it bothers me to no end how Rock ‘n’ Roll talks such HUGE game about being strict about their corrals and then not only doesn’t enforce them, but at this race in particular, doesn’t even make an effort to show where one corral ends and the other begins. Inflatable corral markers only show you the general area associated with your corral, not its actual boundaries. It’s abundantly clear to me that Rock ‘n’ Roll does not care one little bit where anyone actually lines up at any of their races, and I just hate how they talk about corrals like it’s The Biggest Deal, and then do nothing to follow through on that claim.

Now that I’ve gotten those 900 words out of the way…

rnrlasvegas2018startline

I knew this race would be a challenge from the get-go, so I had extremely low expectations for myself. I kind of wanted to do better than I did in 2017, but I also kind of didn’t care. I was quite surprised to hit the first mile in 10:46, since I assumed I’d be running mostly in the 11:xx range. I came through the second mile in an 11:29, however, which was much closer to what I expected.

I thought about really getting into the spirit of just enjoying myself and taking pictures along the course whenever I felt so inclined, but I ultimately decided I didn’t feel like stopping at any of the big photo ops (the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, anywhere along the Strip, etc.) and just kept chugging along. Even though I started well before I was supposed to, based on my corral assignment, I passed a decent number of people and never felt like I was in anyone’s way (though having the entire Strip just for us did help in that department).

You run past the finish line (on the other side of the road) around mile five-ish of the half and full marathons at this race, and I was THRILLED to see the 10K finishers wrapped in heat sheets in the finish area. Knowing I’d get one of those after the race and not have to shiver the whole way back to Harrah’s was a huge relief. I also noticed that the finish line had a smoke machine, the “smoke” from which was blowing all over the road. I had a bad reaction to that at a race once (like, hard-time-breathing bad reaction) and was worried that would happen again, but I made it through all right.

We made it up to Fremont Street and then turned south onto Las Vegas Blvd. again a bit past mile nine, which, in my opinion, is when the race really gets tough. I said this last year, too, but the most deceptive thing about Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas is that the entire course is on a barely-perceptible incline. You can’t see it, but you can certainly feel it, especially when you start going up again on the southbound trip to the finish line.

rnrlasvegaselevationmap

When I hit mile 10, it occurred to me that I could play my 5K game from the marathon again. I had checked my watch at the 5K mark, which I came through in 35:xx. When I hit the 10 mile mark, I added 35 minutes to my time and got to 2:28:xx. I decided I’d try to run the last 5K faster than the first 5K: a bigger challenge than I think I realized when I set it, due to the incline situation.

My mile times weren’t dropping quite like I wanted them to, especially for how hard I felt like I was working. When I got to mile 13, I realized it was going to be awful close to cross the finish line before 2:28:xx, so I did what I could do find another gear and managed to get in at 2:27:52. That counts! (And is around seven minutes faster than I did this race last year, so yay.)

The smoke machine situation was not ideal at the finish line. Due to the wind (which wasn’t even half as bad as Rock ‘n’ Roll’s email made it sound–my Garmin logged an 8 mph wind, compared to the 18 mph wind it logged during Hot Chocolate the week before), the smoke blew into the finish chute rather than up harmlessly into the air. I felt it irritating my throat (not too badly, thankfully), and a bunch of people around me were coughing. You’d think, if they sent out an email threatening to not even put up start/finish line signage (which they did use) or course clocks (which they did not use) due to the wind that it would occur to them that perhaps smoke machines would be a bad idea, but apparently that didn’t cross anyone’s mind.

I hobbled through the finish area on achy legs, gathered my food, hydration, and heat sheet, met up with my running buddy, and returned to Harrah’s to thaw out.

rnrlasvegasmedal2018

(For all my criticisms of Rock ‘n’ Roll, I do have to hand it to them in the medal department. I love this one. The “cards” fold in, which I think is cool. You can’t really see the black detail at the bottom in this picture, but it’s a bunch of buildings from the Strip.)

 

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Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon Race Recap

Every time I’ve signed up for the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon, I’ve done so with hesitation. A half marathon in the middle of July in Chicago is a bit of a gamble, and I will admit that I register expecting the worst.

rocknrollchciagopacket2018

Little did I know just how much of “the worst” this year’s edition of the race would hold.

“The worst” started on Saturday. A loved one got quite sick on Saturday (like, 103 degree fever quite sick), and to say that it stressed me out would be an enormous understatement. I spent most of Saturday vacillating between massive anxiety and crushing panic as their fever crept higher and higher (is there a difference? Not really, but it makes my writing sound fancier.) Instead of sleeping Saturday night into Sunday morning, I took what amounted to two, two-hour naps: one from 9:45 to 11:45, and another from 2:00 to 4:00. When I “officially” got up at 4:30 Sunday morning, I seriously considered bailing on the race, especially since I was still so wracked with anxiety that I could barely think straight. Sitting around my house stewing with worry wasn’t going to make anything better, though, so I figured I may was well attempt to burn off my anxious energy with a 13.1 mile run.

(For the record, things are much better now. Their fever finally broke Monday evening.)

It was overcast and cool for July when I got to Grant Park, but I wasn’t particularly concerned about the weather. It could’ve been much worse–hotter, more humid, sunnier–so I didn’t think much of it. I saw a girl from my running group when I got to Columbus, chatted with her for a bit, and went off to get myself into a portapotty line and the corrals. To everyone participating in Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago’s credit, runners on Sunday’s race seemed to respect their assigned corral way more than the race field in San Diego or Seattle did, so there’s that. The corrals are still completely unenforced, but hey, nice to know people who show up in Chicago are more likely to follow their assignments!

rocknrollchicagostartline2018

While we waited for the race to begin, it began to sprinkle. I knew there was rain in the forecast, and I was concerned it would rain for the first mile of the race and then quit, leaving us with humid conditions and wet clothes for the rest of the run. Having it start to rain while we were still waiting to cross the start line did nothing to reassure me that wouldn’t happen.

Eventually we took off. This was my third Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago, each time with the same course, and this time it seemed to take MUCH longer to get to the first mile than usual. When I lapped my watch at the first mile marker, it said it had taken me 12:52 to get there, which seemed both concerning and totally unreasonable. I know what it feels like to run 12:52, and the effort I was putting in did NOT match the effort I normally associate with a 12:52 mile. Either the mile marker was off or I was in big trouble. Even though I was tired and anxious, I still had enough mental wherewithal to remember that the first mile marker was almost always earlier in the past, and sure enough, when I looked it up on the course map, the mile marker on the course was beyond where the first mile was marked on the online course map.

I completely missed the second mile marker and was getting awful worried about how long it took me to run the second mile until I realized I must’ve missed the sign – especially when I saw the mile three sign 😛 It rained on and off throughout all of this, just enough to keep things cool (and make the road slippery).

I got better about noticing the mile markers and started to have a better idea of how fast I was running: pretty consistently in the 10:40-10:50 range. That was fine with me. I was out to finish as quickly as possible, but I also knew I wasn’t exactly in a position to PR. Back before this weekend happened, when I had things like “hopes” and “dreams” and “plans” for this race, I wanted to run the race close to my goal marathon pace to see how it would go. My goal marathon pace (for a 4:45) is a 10:52, so even though this was a little on the slow side as far what I ~really~ like for my half marathon pace, it’s ultimately what I wanted out of the race anyway.

While we’re on the topic of mile markers, though, I have some SERIOUS complaints about the miles as marked on the course and the miles as marked on the course map. As I mentioned, I set my Garmin to manual laps for the race, because I’ve run downtown enough times to know that attempting to use your Garmin downtown for accurate data is a fool’s errand. If I’m running a race downtown, I manually lap it when I hit a mile marker so I know how fast I actually ran the distance between two mile marker signs, not whatever sort of 150 mph nonsense my Garmin thinks I was doing. In reviewing the laps as noted by my Garmin map–the laps I created in my watch’s log when I passed each mile marker–they aren’t even CLOSE to what was advertised on the course map. Behold:

rnrdowntown

This is a screenshot of my Garmin map overlaid with a screenshot of the official course map. For whatever reason, my Garmin map only shows odd numbered laps, and remember that my lap number is off due to missing the mile two marker (so lap five was mile six, lap seven was mile eight, etc.). The course map show mile six at the intersection of Harrison and State (circled in blue), while the actual course marked mile six right before the corner of Harrison and Michigan (circled in orange).

Now, I will admit that that’s not a gigantic discrepancy. But look at how much worse it gets as the race goes farther south–and not only how much worse it gets, but how it gets worse in the opposite direction:

rnrsouth

While downtown, the course mile markers were showing up after the course map shows where those miles should be, as we go farther south, the course mile markers are now showing up before where the course map shows those miles should be–and by a lot! The green circle shows where the map says mile eight was, while the yellow circle shows where mile eight was marked.  The light blue circle shows where the map says mile 10 was, while the black circle shows where mile 10 was marked on the course. What the heck, Rock ‘n’ Roll?! How do you screw that up so badly?! And so inconsistently?!

And hey, while we’re on the topic of course maps, would anyone like to explain to me why the courses in 2015 (screenshot here) and 2018 (full screenshot below) are identical except for the fact that in 2018, instead of running straight up Clark to Washington, we turned on Madison, took it to LaSalle and then turned on Washington, presumably adding distance to the race by running three sides of a block instead of one: distance that we don’t seem to lose anywhere else, despite the fact that allegedly both courses are 13.1 miles? (Although according to the 2015 certification, we did run around that block, even though the course map doesn’t show it). Or explain to me how miles eight, nine, and 10 are in WILDLY different locations on the 2018 map than they were on the 2015 maps, despite, once again, being the same course? Or explain to me how mile 11 is in one place in 2015 and another place in 2018, while mile 12 is in the same place both times?

2018course

But then again, what you can you expect from the race series that promises you a vanity bib for running your third Rock ‘n’ Roll of the year as a reward for signing up for the Heavy Medals program months ago and ends up giving you the same one everyone else got, or the race series that sends out its Final Information email for Chicago with pictures of NASHVILLE. I enjoy Rock ‘n’ Roll events for the most part, but the devil is in the details, folks. And while no, none of this matters at all in the grand scheme of things–I do this for fun, as a way to motivate myself to keep training, as a convenient excuse to sleep in one Saturday during the summer–it’s those little things that really make or break my opinion of a race organizer. If you can’t get the little things right, why should I trust you to get the big things right? HOW can I trust you to get the big things right?

Anyway.

The sun came out for a hot (literally) minute a little after I got to mile six, but fortunately the clouds covered it up soon after that. It was really humid when it wasn’t raining, and the sun only made that worse, so I was grateful for the clouds. I became a bit less grateful for them when I got to mile nine, however. There had been plenty of on and off sprinkles throughout the race, but when I was at mile nine, the skies absolutely opened up and it poured. Like, rain streaming down my visor, shoes saturated poured. It was one of those “What can you do?” sort of moments, and everyone around me seemed to take it in stride (heh puns). I don’t love running in pouring down rain, but with only a few miles left it didn’t bother me too much, at least in the moment. It bothered me when I finished and got cold due to my soaking wet clothes, but it made running more comfortable at least.

I felt pretty good towards the end of the race. This year, they lined the entire part along Lake Shore Drive with semi trucks, which I really appreciated. Running so close to traffic on Lake Shore always made me a bit nervous, so to have a solid barrier made things feel substantially safer. I did a better job of not kicking too early this year, but I did keep a close eye on my watch all the way down Columbus. I thought I might be able to sneak in under 2:20, and lo and behold, I crossed the finish line in 2:19:12. That counts!

I was in a hurry to get home (and it was raining…I think. I’ve lost track of when it was and wasn’t raining), so I didn’t stick around for any of the post-race stuff. I loaded up my arms with water, Gatorade and snacks, and made my way back to the CTA.

All in all, I’m happy with my race. The weather, though not particularly friendly wasn’t nearly as bad as it could be in July in Chicago (2015 Rock ‘n’ Roll, I’m looking at you), and I’m glad my lack of sleep/abundance of anxiety didn’t disrupt things too much. I am annoyed that the shirt is, once again, identical to the ones I got in San Diego and Seattle last month, but at least the medal is different this time around.

rocknrollchicagomedal

St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Race Recap

I’m so behind on blogging – reading, writing, responding, etc. Ten days out of town will do that to you! I promise I’ll get around to everything…eventually.

Because why run one half marathon in the space of a week when you could run two?

Roughly a year ago, a girl I know from college posted pictures of herself after the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Half (?) Marathon. (I don’t remember if she ran the half or the full.) It occurred to me that I, too, am capable of running half marathons, and that the race would be the perfect excuse to go to Seattle (not that I ever need an excuse to go to Seattle). It would also give me the opportunity to visit my grandparents who, at 95 and 97, aren’t getting any younger. I want to spend as much time with them as I can while I can, so I decided in that moment that I’d run Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle in 2018.

rocknrollseattlepacket

Roughly two months after that, I moved into a new position at work, and a few months after that, it occurred to me that this new position would almost certainly require my attendance at a conference in San Diego that, most inconveniently, was a few days before Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle. Not willing to be deterred from my dreams of running Seattle and visiting my grandparents, I decided to make a trip out of the whole thing, flying to San Diego, running Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego (because it was the day before the conference, so why not, if work was paying for my flight?), going to the conference, traveling up the coast to Seattle, running Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle, and then coming back to Chicago.

But this blog post is not about my harebrained, 10-day, 2-half marathon trip idea. (That’s coming later, don’t you worry 😉 ). This blog post is about Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle itself!

rocknrollseattlespaceneedle

I arrived in Seattle a little after midnight Saturday morning, and, after crashing SO HARD at my hotel, eventually dragged myself to the expo Saturday afternoon. The expo was down by CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field: areas of Seattle I had seen plenty of times but never visited. I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed it under normal circumstances, but as I mentioned in my training recap earlier this week, I still wasn’t feeling great and went to the expo unsure of whether or not I’d start the race, never mind finish it.

I took it very easy on Saturday, stuck to the easiest-to-digest foods I could think of/find (chicken noodle soup, toast, baked chicken, bananas – not bad pre-run food, anyway), and hoped for the best. I felt fine when I woke up Sunday morning, so I decided to go for it, with the caveat that “going for it” would mean “going as gently as possible, which might mean walking the entire thing, understanding I may stop at every/all portapotty available, and may drop out at any point along the race.”

I started…not in my assigned corral, because I wanted to have as much time as possible to complete the race. Rock ‘n’ Roll’s enforcement of their corralling system continues to rely entirely on the honor system (and there isn’t any division between the corrals once you get in them anyway), so self-seeding isn’t much of a problem. (As a side note, I used to think it was so stupid that Rock ‘n’ Roll bothered with corrals when they don’t even pretend to enforce them, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I like their method. It’s way less stressful than some races [ahem, Bank of America], because the corrals never close, and I imagine enough people get in the right corral to avoid serious crowding.)

The race started–STARTED–uphill, which was a cruel preview of what was to come for the remaining 13 miles. I knew there would be no avoiding hills in this race–it is Seattle, after all, but ho.ly. cow. Nothing could’ve possibly prepared me for this insanity.

seattleelevation

I will refer to this elevation map throughout the post, but for now, please observe the red box on the far left, where I was required to climb 128 feet over the course of half a mile (exactly, in fact). “Mount” Roosevelt, for comparison’s sake, is a roughly 10 foot climb over .18 miles (assuming my Garmin is to be believed. There are also a lot of tall buildings around there, so it’s possible the elevation isn’t 100 percent accurate). Needless to say, I was a bit of my element.

Fortunately, I knew this was going to be an extremely tough course by my standards, so my expectations were basement level before my stomach rebelled. I was in absolutely no hurry, so the 11:xx miles I kept logging were no skin off my nose.

I was also wildly unbothered by how long it was taking me to get through this run because the course was stunning. The weather was perfect, and I do mean perfect–52 and sunny, like That One Day in late September/early October where it finally feels nice to run again (if you’ve trained through a Chicago summer, you know what I’m talking about). Even if it had been warm and/or overcast, though, the scenery was SO beautiful. This was easily the prettiest race I’ve ever run.

rocknrollseattlecourse-1

rocknrollseattlecourse-2

Without a doubt, the most insane part of the run was in that purple box on the elevation map. I had received an email a few weeks earlier about a “King/Queen of the Hill” challenge on 19th Street, where the three males and three females who recorded the fastest times up that hill would receive an additional award. I assumed this meant the hill was brutal, but I could not have FATHOMED how insane it was until I actually got there. It was an 82 foot climb over .12 miles. That is a THIRTEEN PERCENT GRADE. (It’s 12.95 percent technically, but whatever. Close enough.). Once again, for comparison’s sake, “Mount” Roosevelt is a 1 percent grade. It was NUTS. I wanted to try to run up it, but halfway through I gave up and hiked the rest. It was, bar none, the steepest hill I’ve ever tried to run, and I am quite certain I was not crowed Queen of the Hill. Did I mention it was nearly 10 miles into the run, too? Oof.

The real cherry on top of this hill sundae (Sunday, since the race was on a Sunday? Heh puns.) was the end of the race though, highlighted in the blue box. After a generous downhill leading into mile 12 and immediately after the 12 mile marker, from about 12.5 on, the whole stupid race was uphill! Again! Hadn’t I suffered enough?! That certainly made the end tough, but I crossed the finish line in 2:29:20, which got me the sub-2:30 I was secretly hoping for and was faster than my two slowest half marathons, so there’s that.

Despite the hills, I LOVED this race and would do it again in a heartbeat. I am, admittedly, obsessed with Seattle, so I’m sure that helped my positive feelings about the event. The one thing I didn’t love about the race, though? The fact that the t-shirt and medal were almost identical to the ones I received for doing Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego the week before. I really hope this isn’t a new trend for Rock ‘n’ Roll, where all of their shirts and medals are Variations on a Theme of Exactly What We Did for All Our Other Races. While I don’t run exclusively for shirts and medals, I will admit that nothing about races gets my goat quicker than a lousy shirt or medal design for a long distance race (for a 5K, not so much. I’d rather not get a medal at all for a 5K, and I almost certainly won’t keep the shirt anyway.). First world problems.

rocknrollseattlemedal

On to actual marathon training!

 

Synchrony Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Race Recap

Hello from California! I’ve known for awhile that I would need to be in San Diego for work during the first week in June, and while I initially wasn’t thrilled about the idea (flying, having to lug my 30 gazillion pound laptop all over creation, etc.), a quick peak at Rock ‘n’ Roll’s website revealed that the iconic Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego weekend–the one that started the entire franchise in the first place–would conveniently take place the Sunday before I had to be in town for work. And since work was paying for the flight anyway… 🙂

I got into town Friday night well after the expo closed, so I made my way there Saturday morning. I stayed in Little Italy for race weekend, and it was a beautiful 1.5 mile walk from my hotel to the convention center with packet pickup. I suppose normally I wouldn’t go out of my way to walk three miles to and from an expo the day before a race, but I went into Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego with zero goals and zero expectations. I only cared about taking advantage of the opportunity to see as much of San Diego as possible, so I was happy to make the walk.

rocknrollsandiegopacket

I got to the expo a little after 12:30, which wasn’t an accident. Desi Linden was scheduled to make an appearance in the Brooks merchandise area at 1, and I most definitely wanted to get a picture with her. I got my packet and shirt, then lined up with a bunch of other running nerds to meet Des!

desilinden

A lot of people had her sign their bibs, but I know how trashed my bibs usually get during a race, so I opted to just have her sign the picture she had available instead. She asked if I was doing the half or the full, and I told her the half, at which point she declared me “the competition.” Ha! I wish. (She was pacing the 2:00 half marathon group.) The one and only time an elite will ever refer to me as the competition 😛

Sunday morning, I boarded a shuttle a couple blocks from my hotel for the quick ride up to the start at Balboa Park. The park was so beautiful! I wish I had had more time to explore. The timing worked out perfectly to give me a chance to visit the portapotties, get sunscreen from the med tent (since I had forgotten mine at the hotel), and get into a corral with plenty of time to spare. (The corrals, in case anyone is curious, were just as unenforced as ever for a Rock ‘n’ Roll race. I wondered to see if that would still be the case now that Ironman owns them, and at least in San Diego, it certainly was.)

It was relatively cool and overcast when the race began, but the clouds cleared quickly and we had nothing but sunny skies for the remaining 12 miles. We wandered through several neighborhoods in northern San Diego–Hillcrest, Normal Heights, North Park, and others I’m sure. There was particularly great crowd support in mile four, where a bunch of people who live in the neighborhood had all sorts of rouge aid stations set up, complete with mimosas, Bloody Marys, donuts, etc. I did not partake in any of the offerings, though I will admit I seriously considered a donut pit stop. I was STARVING for most of the race–I started fueling at mile three instead of mile five like normal because I was so hungry–and a donut did sound delicious. I also saw a house flying a W flag around mile five! That was so exciting that I stopped to take a picture (though the picture didn’t turn out great, so you’ll just have to believe me on that one).

The course was a lot hillier than I’m used to–not that that should come as a surprise to anyone, including me, considering that anything beyond flat is “hillier than I’m used to,” and by mile nine, all of the walking from the day before caught up with me. I hit the wall hard, and decided to walk through an aid station and up a couple of hills. I found a second wind around mile 11, though, and powered through to the end, finishing in 2:23:06. Not my best half marathon by a long shot (like a 21 minute long shot), but my only goal for Sunday was to enjoy myself, so no skin off my nose (well, metaphorically. I got a nasty sunburn on my nose in particular on Saturday, so I’m sure some literal skin will be coming off my nose shortly 😛 ). Despite having a rough mile nine and 10, I’m extremely pleased with how I ran this race. I think this was one of my most evenly paced efforts, and I’m pretty stoked about that. Yay for-fun races!

rocknrollsandiegomedal

Christie Clinic Illinois Half Marathon Race Recap

After Friday night’s 5K, it was time for the second half of the Half I-Challenge: the Christie Clinic Illinois Half Marathon!

illinoishalfmarathonpacket2018

(I am in. love. with the race shirt. A long sleeve purple tech shirt?! Yes please. I got the Meijer reusable bag for signing up for M Perks [even though I live nowhere near a Meijer and certainly don’t need an M Perks account] because I am in. love. with its design, too [and Meijer in general], and the Chicago Half Marathon water bottle for signing up for that at the expo, too. I’d been meaning to sign up, and I saved $20 if I did so at the race, so that wasn’t a tough call.)

After logging all but three or four training runs for this race in my warmest running jacket and tights, I worried how I’d fare if it turned out to be anything toastier than 45 degrees on race day. I woke up Saturday morning to temperatures in the 30s and a Real Feel in the 20s, so instead, I got to worry about being cold before the start of the race. I had throwaways with me, but I wasn’t convinced they’d be sufficient. I didn’t get hypothermia waiting for the race to begin, so clearly they were fine, but I have got to do something about my newfound angst about being cold in a corral before a race. It’s so unnecessary and unhelpful, and I don’t like it at all.

I crossed the start line a little before 7:15 in an absolutely foul mood due to the cold situation. As I mentioned earlier this year, my only goal for this race was to negative split it, so I intended to go out slow (ideally, around a 10:30 pace). When I crossed the first mile in 9:39, then, I was not pleased. Sure, that felt easy for the moment, but I had serious doubts that it would continue to feel easy for the next five miles, never mind that I’d be able to run consistently faster paces than that from mile seven to the finish line. I tried to dial in my pace on the second mile, but I still couldn’t get myself anywhere close to a 10:30 pace (mile 2: 10:02; mile 3: 10:08; mile 4: 10:16).

The first four miles were misery. I was so grumpy, and it felt like it was taking for.ev.er. to get to each mile marker. I had some chews at mile four, but didn’t get enough water from the following aid station and was concerned that I’d pay for it later on. Fortunately, a spectator just a minute or two past the aid station was handing out water bottles, so I took one and felt much more relaxed about the whole situation.

Soon after I took the water bottle, a girl who had been near me for at least a mile or two asked me what finish time I was aiming for. Even though I didn’t have an actual time goal, I expected to do a 2:10-2:15, so I told her as such. She said she was shooting for the same thing and asked if we could run together. I was a little hesitant, given my negative split goal, but I was also feeling really lonely (and grumpy) on the course, so I agreed. GAME. CHANGER. We didn’t chat too much, but having someone running with me turned my mood completely around and the miles started ticking by quickly instead of dragging on for all eternity. (I thought she looked younger than me, so I asked if she was a U of I student, and she said she was and asked if I was too? *brushes shoulder off* I graduated from college six years ago, so you better believe someone even thinking I could possibly still be in college was fabulous for my ego.)

We chugged along through Urbana, and when we got to mile seven, I told my running buddy I was going to try to step up the pace a little. She decided she’d try to keep up, which was fine with me, so off we went. We had a logged a 10:39 sixth mile, so “stepping it up” turned into a 10:05 seventh mile: not much faster than I had run at the beginning of the race, but at least faster than my previous mile.

We wound through Meadowbrook Park, where I ended up seeing Tree Swallows for the first time ever! They are such beautiful birds, and I was thrilled to see a bunch (seven!) and add them to my life list 🙂 I did not bother trying to go over my excitement about this with my new running buddy, however 😛

I kept trying to push the pace a little more each time we passed another mile marker. When we got to mile 10, I checked my watch and saw two things: first, that I had been on the course for 1:40; second, that I was running approximately the same pace I had run during the 5K the night before. Since it took me just under 30 minutes to do the 5K and I hoped to continue speeding up as the race continued, I thought we (or at least I) might stand a chance at a sub-2:10. I checked in with my running buddy to see how she was feeling and let her know if we continued at our current pace, we’d probably finish in 2:11. That was fine with her (her main goal was sub-2:20), which put me in a bit of a conundrum. Was it more important to me that I get my running buddy to the finish line (it was her first half marathon ever, and since we had agreed to run together, I felt responsible for doing everything I could to make it a positive experience for her), or that I get across the finish line in under 2:10, something I rarely accomplish?

At mile 11, I decided to be selfish. I felt like I had a lot left to give, and I really, really wanted that sub-2:10. I bid my running buddy farewell and wished her luck, and off I went. I did a 9:00 12th mile, and when I looked at my watch at the mile 12 sign (I didn’t run perfect tangents, unsurprisingly, and was about .1 miles off), I was at exactly 2:00. Since the goal was to have my last mile be my fastest mile, I thought I could maybe pull off a sub-2:10, but it was going to be tight. As I ran through campus on my way to Memorial Stadium, I reminded myself of all the times I pushed myself to my limit on my last mile of a training run with this exact moment. It was not comfortable or easy or fun, but I was too, too close to a sub-2:10 to throw in the towel, no matter how badly my lungs, legs, and heart (physical heart, not metaphorical heart) wanted me to. If I couldn’t get in in under 2:10, it certainly wasn’t going to be because I didn’t try my hardest.

By the time I got into Memorial Stadium, I knew I could do it. I ran down the field and crossed the finish line in 2:09:30. *celebrates forever* My legs were wobbling as I walked through the finisher’s chute, but I was ECSTATIC. This was only the third time in 15 half marathons I’ve gone sub-2:10. I went into the race with no actual time goals and just hoping I’d be able to walk away with a time that didn’t frustrate me (i.e.: anything 2:20 or above), so to get into the 2:0x range, especially since I expected do to closer to a 2:15, was  thrilling. It’s no PR, but it’s the closest I’ve come to my PR in over two years and the first time I’ve been happy with a half marathon finish in the same amount of time. And as for negative splitting? I wasn’t quite as perfect as I hoped to be, but check it out:

halfmarathonsplits

Hell yeah, 8:31 last mile. That’s exactly how I hoped this race would turn out, and I couldn’t be happier about how everything unfolded.

halfichallengemedals

Geico Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon Race Recap

If there is anything I’ve learned about happiness and satisfaction over the years, it’s that there is a direct correlation between your expectations compared to your reality and your happiness/satisfaction level. If you expect something to go well (or go poorly) and it does, you’ll be satisfied. If you expect something to go poorly and it goes well, you’ll be thrilled (see: this year’s Chicago Marathon). If you expect something to go well and it goes poorly, you’ll be disappointed.

Would anyone like to wager a guess as to which of those three categories I fell into at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half in Las Vegas?

rnrlasvegaspacket

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my upcoming running plans. In that post, I specifically said, “I am most certainly not hoping for a PR in Vegas,” that “I’m not fooling myself into believing I’ll be in prime racing condition for this event,” and that ” I just want to be able to finish uninjured.” All of those things, dear readers, were lies. I had heard once–and I have absolutely no idea if this is true or not, but I believed it when I heard it–that the best time to try for a half marathon PR is about a month after a marathon. (I should note that I can’t find any evidence to back up this claim, so this was probably not a true statement. But if you can find evidence for it, please feel free to share!) I also knew that temperatures would be cool and there would be no sun to speak of during Rock ‘n’ Roll, given that the race happens at night, so I thought I was really setting myself up for success here. Prior to the race, I thought I was probably going to do a sub-2:10, and maybe even PR. I didn’t say any of that, however, because I knew people would tell me I was wrong, and I didn’t want to hear that. I wanted to prove to all of them that they were wrong and have the race of my life.

That did not happen, to say the least.

We headed out from Excalibur at 3:45 (for a 4:30 start, which was a 5:00 start for all of us, since we were all starting in the second wave, in front of New York, New York, directly across the street) and walkways to the race were already PACKED. I opted to skip gear check, though one person in our group did want to check gear, and by the time we got to the corrals, you couldn’t even get in anymore. That all cleared up after the race started, but it was definitely crowded.

rnrlasvegasstart

I started the race in the second corral of the second wave, and from the moment I started running, I knew things were not going to go well. I actually worried that things weren’t going to go well before the race even began, as my GI tract was not being as cooperative as one might hope it would be prior to a half marathon. I was uncomfortable in the stomach department before I even started running, and once I did start running, I was uncomfortable in the leg department almost immediately.

You would never know it, but the entire Strip is actually on an incline from north to south. It’s so subtle that I don’t think you’d ever notice it just walking around the Strip, but my legs DEFINITELY noticed it on our southbound trip, which made up the first two miles of the race. I could not believe how slow I was running (I had an 11:12 first mile and an 11:35 second mile; for comparison’s sake, on my 10 mile long run the week before, I had a 9:43 first mile and a 10:02 second mile), and it really, really upset me–I was running with someone else from our Vegas group for the first couple of miles, and I believe my exact words were, “This is so slow that it’s not even worth being here.”

elevationmap

See?

I stopped by the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign to take pictures, since with over 11 miles to go I already knew this entire race was going to be a joke, so what’s a few seconds lost over a picture? I also stopped by a portapotty soon after to see that would solve any of my grumpy tummy issues (it didn’t).

welcometofabulouslasvegas

On top of my manifold physical issues, running this part of the course was also a bit emotionally taxing. We ran right past the festival grounds where the shooting happened in October, and it just felt…unsettled, I guess. It was six weeks to the day after the shooting, which I guess sounds like a long time, but definitely didn’t feel like a long time. The race didn’t have any music during the first miles (an anomaly for Rock ‘n’ Roll) other than a string quartet at the turnaround and put up Vegas Strong signs by the festival grounds, so they certainly made every effort to pay their respects.

After the turnaround, it didn’t take too long (well, relatively speaking) to get back to the Strip, where the lights and hotels and general flashiness at least kept things interesting. I got to the Bellagio right at 6 p.m., so I got to see the dancing fountains, even though I couldn’t hear the music they danced to due to course noise (and being on the other side of the road).

I don’t know where the Strip ~officially~ ends, if it officially ends anywhere, but as far as I’m concerned, the Strip, at least from a lights and hotels and general flashiness standpoint, ends at Encore. Sure, there are still more hotels along the road–Circus Circus, the Stratosphere–but passing Encore really feels like leaving the Strip as far as I’m concerned. That’s all well and good, but Encore is at roughly mile six, and the northernmost point of the course is at about mile nine. Those three miles of Las Vegas Boulevard feel like a totally different world from the heart of the Strip. The contrast was remarkable. I felt like I had run into a ghost town from the mid-1950s. Rather than gaudy resorts, the road was lined with motels–some seemingly still open, some definitely abandoned–and wedding chapels. It was so different from the south part of the Strip.

The northernmost part of the course took us on a little jaunt down Fremont Street, where  most of the oldest casinos are located (though we didn’t run by any of them). This is definitely the neon lights part of town (as opposed to the Strip, which I would consider more the “lights in general” part of town, haha), and since I was already totally miserable and in a foul mood, I figured I may as well stop to take pictures.

rnrlasvegasfremontstreet

The trip back south to the finish line wasn’t as terrible as I feared, but I certainly wouldn’t say I was enjoying myself. My legs hurt, I was thirsty (I carried my water bottle with me, but I finished it before I finished the race), and I was super frustrated by the entire experience. I had never dreamed that the race would be that difficult. When we ran through the part of the course where MarathonFoto was up on a cherry picker to take our pictures from above, I actually put my arm over my stomach to cover my bib number, because I didn’t want ANY photographic evidence of such a lousy race.

I crossed the finish line in 2:34:27, making this my second slowest half marathon of all time (hooray). I was so upset walking through the finisher’s chute that when I grabbed my medal from the volunteer, I didn’t even put it on. I met up with those in the group who had finished (three of the five of us) and demanded to go home immediately (well, mostly immediately – immediately after I finished crying, that is).

I didn’t know any of this until I looked up my stats after the fact (Rock ‘n’ Roll does a really great job of giving you a lot of details about your run), but even with such an awful-from-my-perspective run, I still managed to negative split the race, at least through the 5K, 7 mile, and 10 mile marks (where they had timing mats), and I finished in the top 50 percent (just barely–I was in the top 49.8 percent–but whatever, it still counts 😛 ). I wasn’t in the top 50 percent at Nashville or Chicago, so at least I can hang my hat on that.

Sometimes, it takes some analyzing to figure out where things went wrong in a race. With Vegas, I could write a thesis on the reasons why this race went poorly. The deck is so ridiculously stacked against you in Vegas (#puns) that if time is of any concern to you, you honestly would probably be better off forgetting to put your chip on your shoe and leaving your watch at home to avoid any post-race time-induced angst.

Card Stacked Against Me #1: Sleep
In a perfect world, I’d like to get eight hours of sleep every night. In the real world, I usually get just over seven hours of sleep every night. According to my FitBit, I got 5:22 of sleep Thursday night into Friday, 5:54 of sleep Friday night into Saturday, and 6:26 of sleep Saturday into Sunday. Obviously that was FAR below my ideal scenario, and even though a half marathon isn’t as difficult as a marathon, that doesn’t mean it’s a race to take lightly in the preparation department. I definitely didn’t get even close to enough rest going into the race.

Card Stacked Against Me #2: Hydration
I had forgotten this from being in Vegas in 2016, but I have SUCH a hard time staying hydrated in Vegas (see: middle of the desert). My goal for Sunday was to drink two rounds of my water bottle (a total of 42 ounces of water) before the race. Not only was this probably a low estimate for how much water I would need before a half marathon under any circumstance–I try to drink at least three rounds of my water bottle the day before a long run during marathon training–but it was most definitely a low estimate for how much water I would need before a half marathon in the desert, AND I didn’t even accomplish that anyway. I drank one water bottle plus two glasses of water at breakfast, which I’m certain didn’t add up to 42 ounces.

Card Stacked Against Me #3: Nutrition
I have a very regimented way of eating 12 hours before a long run (one bowl of macaroni pasta with a handful of corn, a handful of peas, baked chicken, a drizzle of olive oil, a generous portion of salt, and a little bit of parmesan, plus half of a Trader Joe’s dark chocolate bar for dinner; two pieces of white toast with peanut butter and four ounces of orange juice for breakfast). I rarely, if ever, deviate from this plan, because I know it works well for me. I was very concerned about nutrition before Vegas, but then reminded myself that I ran 10 miles after work on three separate occasions this past summer and never once paid any sort of thought to what I ate prior to those runs, so this would be fine. Boy, was I wrong about that. For one thing, there’s a big difference between sitting at work all day, eating the same food you eat every other day of the week, and then trying to go run 10 miles, compared to waltzing around Vegas for three days, eating with reckless abandon, and then trying to run 13.1 miles. For another thing, on those 10 miler days, I’d eat a normal breakfast at a normal time and a normal lunch at a normal time. On race day in Vegas, I ate five buttermilk pancakes around 11 a.m., and then didn’t eat anything else for the rest of the day, other than a handful or two of Munchies right before leaving Excalibur. In what should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, that was not adequate fueling in ANY way.

Card Stacked Against Me #4: Elevation
Chicago is roughly 575 feet above sea level. Las Vegas? 2,000 feet above sea level (almost exactly, in fact). Granted, that’s not as dramatic of a difference as, say, Chicago compared to Denver, but it is a difference. According to this chart, the effective oxygen percentage at 575 feet is less than 20.9 percent, but higher than 20.1 percent. The effective oxygen percentage is 19.4 percent. That’s no Boulder (17.3 percent), but it is a lower oxygen concentration that what I’m used to, so I’m still counting it as a card stacked against me 😛

So, that was Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas. If I ever do this race again, at least I’ll know what I’m getting myself into the second time around!

rnrlasvegasmedal

(I didn’t realize this until after I had uploaded the picture, but part of the medal is turned around. The die and the inner ring both spin, and the inner ring is backwards in this picture. Marcia has a much better picture of the medal, if you’d like to see it in its full glory.)

 

Chicago Half Marathon Race Recap

I hit the half marathon of half marathons on Sunday (that is to say, I ran my 13th half marathon on Sunday), and boy oh boy did I earn it.

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Sunday happened to fall in the middle of the worst, most unrelenting heat wave we’ve had all year, and after running 20 miles in the heat last Sunday, I was extremely uninterested a half marathon in similar conditions. I never actually considered a weather-related DNS until Sunday, and honestly, the only thing that got me out there Sunday morning was my anxiousness over how behind I feel in marathon training. I’ve missed 35 long run miles this season, and I certainly was not about to miss 13 more for anything short of serious illness, injury or other similar emergency.

I woke up at 4:45 Sunday morning to a balmy 74-feels-like-78. I had known all week that this was not going to be a PR sort of day, though I did hope to at least do better than I did in Nashville earlier this year, when it was just about as warm and terrible. I thought I ran a 2:45 in Nashville (turns out I ran a 2:40), so the goal was to do a sub-2:45 for sure, and maybe do a sub-2:30 if I could mange. I figured I’d be walking a lot and didn’t have any “run x miles before I start walking” hopes or dreams.

chicagohalf2017start

I crossed the start line three minutes after the race began and felt like the entire field passed me. My goal is always to start slow and speed up as a race goes on, but it was still a little demoralizing to get passed so. many. times. I stuck to my guns, though, churning out some 11:xx miles.

Honestly, I felt WAY better than I expected I’d feel, and a mile or so onto Lake Shore Drive, I was having a hard time holding myself back. I knew the second half would be, minimally, much sunnier than the first half, though, and didn’t want to start running faster only to pay for it later. I did try to keep all my miles faster than 12:xx, though, and while I came close on my fifth mile (11:50), I managed to never drop below that 12:00 threshold. Woo!

To my great delight, I negative splitted all of the second half miles (11:36, 11:32, 11:20, 11:20, 11:16, 11:02, 10:44, 9:12 [the last .23 – I favored shade over tangents and didn’t run this race very well]). That doesn’t very often, and it certainly doesn’t happen often on a hot day like Sunday, so I’m quite proud of that. I only walked when getting water from the aid stations, and did my best to not get caught up in the crowds at the aid stations to avoid losing too much time.

Speaking of the aid stations: for a race that always takes place in September, I was BEYOND IMPRESSED with how much Life Time did to keep runners cool on the course. None of the aid stations seemed to be scrambling for water by the time I got there. There were regular-sized misters you see at football games at a few of the aid stations, there was a gigantic, fire department mister somewhere in the neighborhood of mile nine, and most–possibly all?–of the aid stations on the return trip on Lake Shore Drive were handing out cups of ice, which I happily stuffed down the front and back of my sports bra, as once does when it’s 89 degrees and you’re trying to run a half marathon in full sunlight. They also handed out popsicles at the finish line. I had half of mine, but I wanted salt more than I wanted sweet, and it was so cold compared to the rest of me that I was having a hard time eating it. It was a much appreciated gesture, though!

I checked my watch obsessively down the final stretch and was pretty sure I’d get in under 2:30. Sure enough, I crossed the finish line in 2:29:31 #nailedit. It’s my second slowest half marathon to date, but considering that it was also the second worst conditions I’ve run in, I can’t complain.

I downed some water, collected my obscenely large medal, ate my free slice of pizza, and stumbled out in search of air conditioning and a cold shower. This certainly wasn’t the day I hoped for or expected when I signed up for a late September half marathon, but I’m really happy with how things went. This is the first time I’ve made it through a run lately without questioning whether the effort involved is worth it, and that, my friends, was a wonderful feeling.

chicagohalf2017medal