Sunday, October 9, 2011

Race Report - 2011 Rock & Roll Half Marathon

For the past five months or so, my main enemy in training and racing has been heat. It pretty much killed me on the Creek Streak and shortened a few runs and rides to less than what I set out to accomplish. So when the snow was falling yesterday and the temperature on my car thermometer this morning was all the way down to 32*, I knew I was going to be in for a fairly significant change. The question was, how would I handle it?

My backyard around 11:00 yesterday, 10/8

I actually registered for the Rock & Roll Half Marathon way back in like June or July. It was cheaper to start early and it was also good to have it on my radar as the season progressed. I had done a little bit of reading on the website, but things were kind of at a stand still until I went to the Expo on Friday.

You have to give Competitor Group their due. They organize a packet pick-up as well as anyone I've seen and well they should given the large turnout for their races. Friday afternoon was no exception. I made my way through the stations that involve packet and swag pick-up and then onto the Expo itself. It's actually a pretty savvy business move on their part to require each athlete to come to the Expo to pick up their stuff. I'm sure it's a selling point when they want to get exhibitors to buy booth space.

The exit from the packet area put you in a large area dedicated to selling event-specific merchandise.  Brooks is one of their big sponsors and they had set up this area to promote their products:

Personally, I don't think a freak show or even free skee-ball is the best way to sell running products so I did not go in. All told, I thought the expo was a little lack-luster. Mostly it was dominated by Nutrilite which is some kind of Amway spin-off that sells vitamins or supplements or something. Not interested.

All told, I did end up purchasing one souvenir that is particularly useful on the afternoon after a race:

I didn't stay long and soon I was on my way back home to rest and relax leading up to this morning.

I'm afraid I don't have any event-day pictures to share. The blog's chief photographer (aka: my wife) was given the day off given the 5:30 departure time. She's been out there for just about everything else and it was a little too cold to ask her to come out and stand around for a couple of hours. Just as well.

As I mentioned, it was cold here in Parker this morning but things had warmed up to a balmy 42* by the time I parked at the Auraria campus garage and began the 1 mile walk to the start area.

A carry-over from the years when this race was the Denver Marathon is a gear check at no extra charge. It's a good idea and a nice way to be able to wear warm clothes until it's time to start. I would guess more than 90% of participants take advantage of this service and there were big crowds gathered to check things in with less than 10 minutes before the first wave went out. Not helping things was a big semi-truck from none other than Nutrilite parked right in front off the drop off tables forcing everyone to line up to one side or another.

At long last, my gear was checked, I had fought through the crowds and positioned myself in Coral #8 which is for those expecting a finish time of 2:10. The wave start makes sense because 14th Street is on the narrow side and more so due to some maintenance going on there. When my group left, we had a clear field in front of us. As I turned off of Bannock and onto 14th, I remembered that four weeks ago I was doing a tri in San Diego. Now I'm doing a half-marathon in Denver. Life's pretty good!

The first third of this course is a tour of downtown. There were no radical departures and we went by both Pepsi Center and Coors Field as well as through the canyons of downtown. A left turn onto 17th Avenue faces you with the steepest hill of the course. My rough calculations have it at about a 4.6% grade but it feels worse mainly because you can't see the top as you climb. If you know the area, it's where 17th Avenue goes by the Wells Fargo "cash register" building.

Fortunately, the run from there is flat and reasonably fast. I was finding that the miles were going by quickly and I still felt good. I was also making a point of trying not to look at my Garmin too much.

A left turn on York had us running along the west side of City Park. At the corner of 21st Avenue and York, we made a right turn into the park itself where the course would be for the next few miles. A short young woman, probably pushing five feet if that, decided to stop right in front of me to pick up the Gu pouch she dropped and nearly got plowed over. For that matter, a lot of people stopped in the middle of the pack or right at the front of the water station. It makes me appreciate triathletes all the more because I don't recall seeing that nonsense in any of those races this year.

Out of the park and back onto 17th Avenue for the last part of the race. I started to get a little concerned as I went by mile 9 and my watch said 9.18. I know I don't run a perfectly straight line but I had been focusing on running the tangents and adding as little extra distance as possible. It cleared up around mile 10 leading me to believe that the issue was their placement of the marker and not my running.

At this point, I saw two big challenges remaining. First, was the run up York Street (south rather than north now) to Cheesman Park. You do gain about 78 feet in less than a mile and unlike the hill before mile four, it's more drawn out. However, this turned out not to be too bad and the right turn on to the flat stretch on 13th Avenue came up faster than I expected. Second was the run through Cheesman Park itself. Although physically impossible, it felt almost like the whole loop was uphill. You enter the park on an uphill, turn down for a fairly short stretch and then run uphill again to leave the park. There was no question that the second hill hurt a little bit.

The best news of all after leaving the park is that you only have 1.1 miles to go and it's all downhill. I think that is a great way to end a race. Several people around me, as well as me, started pushing the pace. There are enough tall buildings in the way that when you make the right off of 13th Avenue and onto Sherman Street, you still can't hear the PA announcer. That changes once you turn left onto 14th Avenue in front of the south side of the State Capitol.

Could I ever hear the announcer. He was shouting with a lot of enthusiasm. What was going on? No way he would be showing the level of energy for everyone who was finishing the half in a little over two hours. Turns out, the full marathon winner was just in front of me and in the process of setting a course record.

As for me, well the down hill was really down hill at this point and I was flying toward the finish with a big goofy smile on my face both for being nearly done and for finishing ahead of my 2:10 goal. The final number on the day was 2:06:53 or about a 9:37 pace. I felt really good. Not the usual I think I'm going to faint that often comes with the end of the race, but that "runners high."

With that finish, my 2010/2011 season comes to an end. I'm taking the next week completely off and then I start a new plan for my off season conditioning. The biggest decision, pending the outcome of this race was whether or not to attempt a 70.3 next year. And.....yup. Going to give it a shot. That's a hell of a hill to climb, but I have 10 months.

There's a lot to talk about regarding how much I accomplished during the last year, and I'm thinking that will be the subject of another post this week.

I know this has gotten to be a lengthy post, but it would not be a race report if I did not do the good and bad.

The bad:

Price:  This sucker is expensive at something like $130 (and that was discounted). Gotta love the venue and all of the bands, but that's a lot of change.

Pre-Race Info: When I did the Rock&Roll San Diego, they had an okay map, but they also had a video of the course shot from a car and played back at high speed. Now that seemingly every large metro area in the country has a Rock & Roll event, the website has become generic and only gets informative in the two weeks leading up to the event. They really ought to be using MapMyRun, Gmap-Pedeometer or a comparable service to provide course maps and details. Additionally, the turn-by-turn directions were wrong in a couple of places. Not a problem for a local like me, but I can see how an out-of-towner could get confused.

Expo: If you're going to force me to go, make it worth my while with something other than the weird Brooks carnival thing a bunch of lack-luster vendors. Do I really want to go by the State Farm tent? If the vendors want to keep me interested, start slinging the free stuff like water bottles, etc. Not the biggest deal, but sometimes these things just fall flat.

The Good:

Organization: The lack of pre-race communication not withstanding, things went off pretty well this morning. It was easy to check my stuff, easy to get to the start and there were no problems following the course. It helps when there are thousands of people out there, but still, no questions about it. Also, water, Cytomax and Gu were plentiful and adequately spaced.

Venue: Rock & Roll more or less inherited this course from the original Denver Marathon, but they've done a good job of not screwing it up. In fact, moving the start from Broadway to Bannock in front of the City & County building is a nice touch. What's more, they took some time to actually put some pretty good bands on the course. I liked all of the music I heard and I think the performers were really into supporting the runners. That's no easy thing when your audience is changing every 10 seconds!

X-Factor: No not the singing competition that looks just like American Idol to me. It's the intangible quality that makes it fun to run a race. It probably comes about as the result of all the little things like bands, enthusiastic supporters, helpful volunteers and the professionalism of the race staff. Whatever it is, this race has it and I leave it with fond memories.

Overall, I would like to return and do this one next year and would recommend it to others (specifically the half since I've never done the full). Denver has had trouble keeping its Marathon as a going concern. I do like that Competitor adds a vibrancy and vitality that suggest this will be an annual tradition for years to come.

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