This race was the first half marathon of the year for us and essentially the true start of our competitive season. From here on out it will be about two races a month every month until October. This race was the second half marathon we have run in San Francisco and the 4th overall in SF. It also marked the 11th half marathon for us overall. With two more planned for this year, we should finish 2014 with 13 half marathons, which would be kind of cool. Deciding to do this race was easy for us as Angela’s company pays for it, the drive is only about 40 minutes away and we can stay over night and hang out in SF.
We registered back in January at the then discount rate of $85. We eventually had these fees covered by Angela‘s company as they are a key sponsor of the race. The fees are again on the higher end of what I would normally consider paying for a half marathon race. Yet, the Rock n’ Roll races always deliver a high quality experience. Also, being comped for our registration is a big plus. As always, I recommend people plan their race calendars way in advance and take advantage of early registration discounts. You can also check RunTri.com for detailed analysis of many races and where you are likely to get the most bang for the buck on major events.
The expo was rather lack luster. A lot of the same products and vendors you see at every show. I was hoping to see the Under Armour Speedform running shoes, the R8 Roller, and the Nike Free 3 Flyknit there. I went 0 for 3 on those hopes. If you were on the market for water bottle belts, socks, or Hoka shoes, they had you covered. Nonetheless, the process for picking up your shirt, bib, and goodie bag were super smooth and efficient. Competitor group has that part down to a science. Another positive was that I did get to play with the not yet released Polar V800. A nice competitor to the Garmin 910XT but at a steep price; about $500 when it launches. If I choose to get one, I’ll share more detail in a review of it.
We were lucky and had a hotel that was just a short Uber ride to the early morning shuttles. Too early in fact. I really hate super early start times that require me to get up by 4 or 5’ish to either drive or shuttle to the race. I understand that race directors and athletes want to get the day started and completed sooner, but I think 8:00 am is a universally agreeable start time for 80% of events; this one included. I did like that the gear check was right by the start line and broken out into alphabetical lines. Made for quick drop off and easy pick up after the race.
The race this year did get started 5 minutes late and they tried an interesting concept of letting the very slowest of participants (15:00 min/mile pace) go before elites and wave 1. They had the slow group stick to the right but a few did clog up traffic and made for some extra effort for the first group of runners having to weave in and around them. I also noticed that they did not police the waves very well, so anyone could enter in and out of whatever wave they wanted. Kind of frustrating as you have to navigate around people who also bit off more than they could chew jumping into wave 1.
As you can see above, the course is very scenic, running mostly along the San Francisco waterfront, out and back on the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Marina and finishing at the Civic Center Plaza. Hands down one of the most beautiful routes you will ever cover. On the other hand, also one of the most climb heavy runs as well. The race definitely favored those who get regular hill work in and knew the course well. I definitely, suffered through all the ascents and hated myself throughout the race for not doing more incline work. If you plan to run this race, practice hill repeats or pay for it later.
One aspect of the course that definitely needs fixing is the part over the bridge. The first couple of waves had pretty easy-going on the bridge as our group was mostly thinned out by mile 3. The latter groups complained about being very bunched up in the limited amount of space allotted to runners over the bride. Combined with the slippery surface, I saw a few falls and scrapes. There just wasn’t enough room for 8,000+ participants to try to cross over. To be fair, a lot of the runners could learn to thin themselves out more and not run 3-4 abreast in tight quarters. Also, the bands did not start playing until most of the first few waves had come through. A downer since that is part of the allure of this race series and I don’t run with music.
Well, based on pre-race knowledge of the course and having a sprint triathlon the very next weekend, I figured I would sand bag this race. I am glad I did. Even at 80-90% effort, I could feel the grind the race had on me. One of the positives of holding back was that I definitely could enjoy myself more the night before and stayed out drinking because of that. All in all I am pleased with my performance. Only about 7 minutes off of my PR at the half marathon distance, despite the hills and checked effort. I won’t shoot for another half marathon PR until the 2014 San Jose Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon. I know that course super well and will take advantage of how flat and fast it is.
The After Party:
The after party was pretty good with plenty of food and drinks for the participants. The free beer wasn’t one of the cool new craft brewery types I love but was great to have at the end of such a tough race. The live music was great and there was plenty of seating for everyone. The weather was perfect and most of the participants were pretty cool and fun to talk to after the race. Traffic getting out of the plaza was a little crazy, so it took a little while to get home after. One cool thing I noticed was that the line for the post-race massages was relatively short. I also noticed that there was a VIP area with shade and more refreshments. I did not buy the VIP package but it looked like it may have been worth it.
All in all, I really love the Rock n’ Roll Race series. This year in particular is very exciting because if you live in or near California and run in 3 of the 4 Rock n’ Roll Half Marathons in Cali, you can earn the Cali Combo bonus medal. We plan to run the San Jose Rock n’ Roll in October and maybe the LA race as well at the end of that month. Two of the three races could hopefully be free which would make chasing this extra medal worthwhile. If you have not run in a Rock n’ Roll race before, I highly recommend it. Very organized, lots of fun, great locations, and plenty of entertainment. You definitely get your money’s worth.