October 7, 2012

San Jose Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon Review

The Good:

-Super fast, flat course.

-Nice black schwag/drop bag with red logo.  Tech t-shirt.  Cute cassette tape medals (many of the participants probably didn't know what they were, man I'm getting old).

-An out and back section that put me running directly opposite the leaders when they were surging and trying to jockey in miles 11 and 12.  It was very inspirational and entertaining to watch that portion of the race.  Given the time spread for the men and the women, this lets the particpants in the middle to the back of the pack see some of the action from the leaders.  Today, if you didn't get to mile six by 53:50 (8:53/mi or slower) and so long as you made it to mile 4.5 by 1:18 or so (17:33/mi or faster) then you were guaranteed to see some of the action of the top ten men's and women's finishers.
-The event was very well organized with separated corrals (but changing corrals wasn't difficult), pace group leaders, a very easy to use bag drop, and an awesome selection of post-run refuel options, plus tons of medical, crowd, and volunteer support on the course.

The Bad:

-RNR races are notoriously big and expensive.  This one was no different.

-The Expo was an annoying maze where they had traffic control to try to force you to run the gauntlet through all of their various sponsor tents.  Grumpy runners who have time commitments don't make good consumers, guys.  Also, I can walk whichever direction I'd like unless it's against the law.  Just saying...

-The 2:00 pace group was so big and bulky that it didn't really seem to ever string out in a way that would allow its members to run the tangents.  Given the number of turns on the course, this probably cost the pace group members some time.

-No Gu except for one station at mile 9.6 and no other fuel besides Gatorade and water on the course.  I definitely could have used a Gu or other carb source around mile 6 or 7.  (To their credit, the map made this clear, so I should have brought my own.)


Despite missing my time goal, I very much enjoyed today's race. The weather was a bit warmer than I'd ordinarily expect at this time of year, but even so, it wasn't too hot (~55F at the start and ~64 at the finish).

This is a *very* fast course, with the possible exception of the crowds causing issues with missing tangents and slowing for the aid stations.  Great PR potential, almost totally flat with a few small rollers.

My time splits show that as soon as we left the section where I could watch the elites sprint towards us and the finish, my motivation took a severe hit. If I could change one thing it would be to put a refreshment station after this corner (perhaps on the opposite side of the tangent) to encourage runners to fuel up and buckle down for the remainder of their race.

I'd never actually *raced* an RNR event, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I ran-walked a friend through the half in Seattle in 2010, but when I'm supporting friends, I don't pay as much attention to the execution of the race as I do when it's just me, so I didn't have any strong opinions one way or another. But, I had heard horrid things about last year's Las Vegas event from friends who'd done it and RNR are known for their super expensive, huge, and full of difficult to navigate crowds and marketing madness.  Since I generally prefer smaller, less commercial events, I was somewhat skeptical.

But, it's a flat local race that's perfectly timed for my CIM training schedule. So I was in.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that RNR definitely maximizes the size of the event in a good way.  Yes, this is an expensive and large event, but because of that they have an abundance of resources and they make them available to you.

The staff is professional and knows what is going on.  It's so nice to stop and ask for directions or help and to get a clear, correct answer.

They handled all of the things that can go horribly wrong with large crowds very well. They've made certain it's a well thought out course, that's well managed, with plenty of port-a-potties, parking, bag drop, and post-race fuel and rest options (I could have easily had a free 2,000 calorie lunch of awesome fruit, Gatorade, mini Jamba Juices, bagels, bars, chocolate milk, and other goodies not to mention the Miller Lite post-race beer tent, if that's your thing).

Today's race was nothing like the ridiculousness I heard about with respect to last year's Vegas event and I hope that the organization at both the San Jose event as well as the ever growing list of RNR venues only continues to improve.

Yes, this was an expensive race. But, I registered early and it was local.  I didn't have to pay for a hotel. There was free parking if you were willing to show up early enough to deal with the crowds waiting for access at HP pavillion (7 AM, as they recommended, should have been plenty of time). I wore my jacket until the conveniently located and fast bag drop off right by the corrals (by last name *and* bib number, efficient!) and then, cold, I settled into the body heat of my corral.

Roger Craig (a race co-sponsor that I sometimes see when I'm running on the trails in Portola Valley) spoke (and proceeded to kick my 2:06:27 ass with a 1:51:35).

Maybe my goal for next year should be to keep up with Roger.  In theory, it's doable, as my half marathon PR is 1:49:20.  But that was 4 years ago.  So, it may be a relic of the past...

Either way, this race did exactly what it was supposed to do.  It allowed me to run hard and as fast as I could manage for 13.1 miles without a break at this point in my training.  The data shows that I mentally wussed out a bit from miles 7-10, as I slowed there but then picked it back up and finished the last three miles much faster.  So, in addition to the much needed fitness check, this race showed me that I need to work on my mental game and inspired me to train hard for the remaining 8 weeks before CIM.

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