Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rock 'n Rolling With the Punches

I wasn't sure I wanted to write this post because my race experience at the Rock 'n Roll USA Half Marathon was so bittersweet.  What I've decided to do is address the shortcomings of the race first, then follow up with my run, so that I hopefully end on a positive note.

I'm also sorry there are no photos - blogger won't recognize the photos I took, so I'm unable to upload them.  Is anyone else having a similar issue?

I hate to complain about things.  It's one thing to complain to someone who can fix an issue and quite another to constantly moan about things on the internet.  For that reason, I try to overlook the negative aspects of races in my recap posts and tend to write about only products I view positively.  The thing is, I can't overlook the negative aspects of the RnR USA half.  They were pervasive throughout the race and all aspects of my experience and, having run other races put on by the Competitor Group, I know they have the experience and resources to plan better and prevent things like this from happening.

There were 3 places things went wrong:

Gear check:

Emily and I rendezvoused on the Metro and made our way over the the start area around 6:45 on race day.  The forecast called for a chilly, rainy morning and we prepared accordingly.  I wore a jacket and hat and put all essential items I'd have on me in ziplock bags.  I also lined the bag I was going to check with a trash bag, just in case.  The gear check area was chaos - all of the lines were intermingled and many people ended up standing in the wrong lines.  I found the appropriate line and was stunned by how long it was.  I walked past over 200 people to get to the end and waited 45 minutes to check my gear.  By the time we got to the start area, the official race clock had been running for 15 minutes.  While this wasn't a big deal - it took about an hour to get all participants across the start - it wasn't a great way to start the day.

The race:

When we made our way to the first water station and discovered it was out of cups, we knew we were in for a rough ride.  The cup issue (and general lack of volunteers on the course) persisted for the first 8 or so miles.  I'd debated bringing a water belt to the race, ultimately deciding that RnR races are usually well-organized and I wouldn't need it.  I was kicking myself, hard, for that decision.  Things got better during the last 5 miles of the race and continued to improve... until I went to pick up my gear post-race.

Gear pick up:

The lines were, once again, chaotic and unnecessarily long.  As I neared the front of my gear check line (after 30 minutes of standing around in wet, stinky clothes) I saw a lot of bags on the ground between my truck and another truck.  I asked around as to which truck these bags came off of - no one knew.  This was extremely concerning as it's really easy to lose things when you move them around and the ground was damp - some runners looking forward to changing in to dry clothes were going to be pretty disappointed.  I mentally high-fived myself for the foresight to use a trash bag and began digging in to the pile.  I managed to find my bag with the help of some other runners (there were no volunteers helping with this pile, which begs the question of who moved all of these bags to begin with), and went on my way.

Phew.  Now that I've gotten that out of the way....

RnR USA was the first half marathon for my friends Emily and Caroline and I was lucky enough to be able to spend time with both of them.  After checking our gear, Emily and I circled up with Caroline in the start area and we all ran the first couple of miles together.  Caroline stopped to tie her shoe and urged Emily and I to continue on without her.  Emily claimed she wouldn't be able to run faster than an 11:00/mile pace, but was constantly running around 10:00/miles, a comfortable pace for me after taking so much time off.  We ran together for the first 11 miles, gossiping, commenting on other people's outfits, and running into people Emily knows (a special talent of hers).  Since I usually race solo it was a real treat to have company on the course and made the miles seem much shorter than they actually were.  We trucked along at a pretty consistent pace, adjusting only for hills and water stops.  We did stop at one point early on during the race to rock out with a band and get our photo taken by a RnR photographer who couldn't seem to take enough.  I now live in fear that those photos will end up plastered on the website or promotional materials for the race.

The course was different from last year - no doubt in response to Washingtonians' complaints about street closures - and I think the change was for the better.  While it added a steep hill at Calvert street, it eliminated a very long hill on 18th street.  I'll take a short and steep climb over a long, moderately pitched one any day.  The new start line allowed us to run past the White House and various monuments within the first few miles of the race and made it accessible from every metro line.  If RnR can address the gear check snafus they encountered this year I think this start line will be an improved experience over the old one at the DC Armory.

There were a lot less volunteers and spectators on the course this year.  I can't help but to attribute this to the dismal weather forecast.  It was their loss as the morning turned out to be mild and somewhat sunny.  It was perfect running weather and a real treat for everyone.

Right before Emily and I split ways, we ran in to some folks from run club.  One lady, Michelle, ran the race 8 months pregnant.  Don't act like you're not impressed.

I kicked things in to gear for the last couple of miles.  After taking a few months off, running 9:00-ish miles was a LOT harder than I thought it would be.  I managed to finish strong, smile for the cameras, and feel good.  While I was nowhere near a PR (in fact, it was my 2nd slowest race time ever), I feel good about finishing the race and am thankful for the experience I had.  I was lucky enough to participate in two of my friends' first half-marathons, which made for a memorable and special morning.

I found Emily in the finish area, and discovered she met her goal of finishing the race in under an 11:00/mile pace.  Congrats, lady!!  I met up with Caroline at gear check and found out she'd met her goal of running the entire race (no walk breaks) and felt great.  We stuck around to see Cowboy Mouth perform, then grabbed brunch before parting ways to go home and nap.  Is there anything better than a post-race beer and brunch?  If so, I have yet to discover it...


  1. I almost never check a bag, and this is why. Also, I was not impressed with this race last year. There weren't enough water stops toward the end and the temperature was rising, and I felt like I was going to pass out. Add the hefty price tag and I was pretty sour.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I also ran the half. While this race was not my first half, it was my first BIG race (in terms of number of participants). I was so disappointed with everything you mentioned; the gear check, the water stations, and the gear pick up stations. I considered not checking a bag, but with the weather forecast calling for rain, I knew I would want dry clothes for my metro ride home if it did rain! Probably my biggest complaint was the porta potty situation. 6 porta potties for each corral??? That's 6 porta potties per 1,000 people!!!!!! The finish line was no better (took me a long time to even find porta potties at the finish!).

  3. Loved reading your report! I ran the full:

    And I had many of the same complaints! I don't think I will do another RnR! :-( Congrats on your run!