Rock n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon Race Recap, Part 2
Part 1 of my recap has covered the expo experience and an editorial on changes that Competitor Group are making to its races.
Race: Rock n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon
Location: Fairmount/Kelly Drive, Philadelphia, PA
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 15 September 2012 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: Negligible – 1.8 km (1.1 miles)
Weather conditions: Same as last year, shockingly. Sunny with a breeze; temperatures started mid-50s, and progressed to low 70s by 9am. Perfect running weather.
Course conditions: Flat mostly with slight inclines and a steep sharp climb at the end. Course leads through Center City Philadelphia, with a turnaround in Washington Square West. Runners head back into Fairmount and deep on Kelly Drive into the East Falls neighbourhood, doubling on Martin Luther/West River Drive and back to the Art Museum.
Preview: This is the third time I have run this race. This summer has taken a toll on training, between breathing problems caused by extremely humid conditions this summer and a naggling knee injury I picked up end of July.
With a gun time of 8am, I got up early, stretched, and got myself in the right frame of mind. Only Thursday I was struggling with dehydration, which left the areas around my eyes swollen for most if not the entire weekend. My knee was also a bit creaky and some stretching I was able to work out the kinks.
I walked my normal route to the start area, thankful to be able to live close enough to walk. I made my way up Benjamin Franklin Parkway, running into throngs of people and photographers.
And there it was, the familiar sight, the start line.
Bag check-in was fairly straightforward, there were a massive number of queues I needed to cut through to get to where I needed to drop my bags off. And then it was then that I was reminded how large this race was. It was hard to move around the infield, with the Brooks VIP port-a-potty, the bag check-in and ALL the queues for the rest of the latrines all cramped in one area.
Once I was checked in, I made my way to my corral, which was exactly one-third of the way in the entire corral line.
As I stretched in my area, I was greeted by the familiar sounds of the music, the banter the sights of people warming up. One thing I did not miss was the Rocky music; even after many many years of living in Philadelphia, there are some local traditions that have never rubbed on me and Rocky is one of them. To be honest I find the song rather annoying hearing it at EVERY race. It is what it is.
The Race Itself:
In usual fashion, the announcer scoffed at runners nearing the start corral taking pictures. It’s one thing to get your Nike app ready to time yourself, but Tweeting at the start line? (notice I said AT the start line, not necessarily in a corral further back) Not a good call. Even more annoying was slower runners running in faster corrals, but for the most part, I did not have the problems I faced last April.
Our corral was off and abound, and we were off to a very cool start, a cooler breeze and perfect running weather.
Mile 1: From the Parkway to the Business District, this was straightforward, cut through Logan Circle with many many people cheering us on. At the corner of 15th and Arch, I attempted to catch a glimpse of the elite runners crossing our path – we saw the timed vehicle with the clock pass on the other side – but no they were further off in the distance on Arch Street.
We rounded 19th Street and hit Market.
Mile 2: Market Street into Old City. Again, very straight forward. Police did a great job alleviating a major grievance I had last year; spectator interference and invasion. Bands were a little subdued the first four miles of this course, but mentally I was getting into my happy place. We passed the Constitution Center and the Liberty Bell, which surely tourists would have appreciated.
Mile 3: Old City to Chinatown. First glimpse of on course latrines – I only mention this because there were NO queues here. None. Again, fast and flat and police did an excellent job keeping spectators off, one area I was very thankful to see improvement. There were definitely more police on Market Street compared to last year, that much I know.
Mile 4: Chinatown back to the Parkway. This was my first indication of humiliation. First, my finance professor – of ALL people – passed me here. He seemed surprised to see me on course – and vice versa, I had his class on Monday nights. He told me I had better show up in class tomorrow. Too bad the half doesn’t garner me extra credit. Crikey.
Another thing that surprised me was that the last few corrals were only STARTING when we hit mile 4, huge implications as the heat that hit us later on, also meant the poor souls in the back corrals would be having more of the heat in their run.
Miles 5-8: Kelly Drive from Fairmount to East Falls. The bands started picking up and the cool continued. I caught an old couple holding a poster that simply stated “Motivational Sign” gee, how original. Another couple of women I passed were talking about having kids and whether they were trying for more. Interesting topic to be having while running a half marathon, but that is just me I suppose.
I caught many brides-to-be as labelled on their shirts running with their fiances or their best friends (likely as marked maid of honour or something similar) often with their wedding dates on the backs of their shirts.
Someday that will be me. Well I can dream hah. Then again, I doubt even if I did date a runner, I would hardly be able to run with him. Crikey!
A major criticism I must mention is running out of Gatorade at Mile 6. I STARTED in Corral 8 (out of 24) and Gatorade was GONE then. Only three words come to mind: PISS POOR PLANNING. I could understand the Odyssey Half getting their allocations wrong at Mile 10, being a smaller race, but Competitor Group? That was completely unacceptable.
The worst part was that this would happen AGAIN at Mile 9. Yeah I felt really bad for the ones that finished way back. Plenty of water, but the Gatorade was getting sucked up. If the humidity had been worse, I would have been raging.
Mile 8 brought up the bridge we were to turn on and with that, was the GU. And then the bridge for many reasons became “Sticky Bridge” with all the spilt GU on the road. Ugh.
Miles 9-10: Martin Luther King Dr. We were still in the shade as we passed by the Lansdale High School cheerleading club and a few more bands on the course. One was a crooner of country singing mostly Taylor Swift songs. No those songs did not get me going at all, but thankfully I had my mind in a happy place, a place of paradise that I could only dream of. Strangely it’s weird how the mental tricks keep you going.
Mile 11-12: MLK Drive, south of Montgomery Rd. This is when the sun heat really started to hit. It was more than annoying in many ways as it was also when my body temperature started to rise to almost unacceptable levels. I found myself stopping at least 5 times JUST to get my heart rate down. Sips of water and Gatorade wherever I could, but it was also when I came to the realization that my body couldn’t handle humidity of any sorts. I was overheating and I had not the foggiest idea on how to stop it. It was utterly frustrating as my legs were just fine and I easily had the muscle to power though. But no, considering Thursday’s scare, I didn’t want to chance it. Not in the least.
Mile 13: The throngs of crowds drew us all in, and a flat and fast finish here would lend itself to many PRs. Not mine though, and that’s okay. I had done very well in April and my Nike time would be what was submitted for placement at Disney World. But here, there’s no way I could have PRed. Not with my body temperature screaming and raging beyond belief. I came to that final rise right before the finish; by that time I was talking to myself.
Just bloody lean in, you got this. I completely ignored the crowd and I saw the finish.
Yes. Finally. Another one in the books. Not my best time by a country mile but if your heart rate and body temperature soar too high the consequences are too great. I’ll be okay.
And only 60 days until the next half.
After the race ended, we collected our amazing finisher’s medals. A solid design all around.
After this, we filtered through the usual finishers’ chute where the typical post-race refreshments were provided. Chips, water, Gatorade and an infamous load of chocolate milk.
Then it was bagels, pretzels, PowerBars…it was insane. I wish I had had a bag to carry the entire haul, I could not carry everything. I desperately wanted a bagel as my stomach was churning but I couldn’t hold everything. I wish they had done like they had in DC and given us bags to throw our post-race refreshment haul in.
After I funnelled out of the chute, I went to reclaim my checked in bag. It was then that I noticed a massive queue headed out from the bag pick up area. I asked a volunteer what the queue was for as well as where the beer tent was and she told me that the queue was for the free finisher’s shirts and the beer tent was far in the back, behind the concert area.
The last two years I had run this race, I had missed out on the beer tent entirely because I was unable to find it. Some of the finish line areas are NOT well marked at all and if I had to meet anyone at a meeting area, I would have gone insane finding them. The letters were scattered everywhere and in my opinion, no logical order.
This year, knowing well it could be my last Rock n’ Roll race (at least in Philly) I was determined to make the most of the finish line experience. First, I queued up for the finishers’ shirt, sponsored and provided by Mazda.
The shirt patterns and sizes were of your choosing, and they simply heat pressed your chosen design onto the shirt. Innovative.
After that, I hit the beer queue. Like most places, they had bouncers and they did card. I saw several runners get turned away, they were dead serious when they warned all runners in the outgoing emails to have an ID on your person. I got through and saw my running crewmates Rachel and Chris. We raised a few Michelob Ultras to our achievement (they were the sponsoring beer after all) and honestly we were all in the mood for a cold one, as it was both their first time completing a half marathon. Good on you two!
After hanging a bit with them, we headed out but not before this sight. Reminded me of university days!
Finally I wanted to hear Walk off the Earth play a few tunes as they were the headliner band. And I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. So surprised that I looked them right up. Definitely a solid sound, and I really liked their performance of “Shake” and downloaded the single as a result.
It was a great way to cap off the afternoon.
Once again, I cannot dispute that Competitor Running put on a good show for the expo. As for the race, I was a bit surprised. The finish line area could have had more visible signs and the shortage of Gatorade at two water stops was unacceptable. Incidentally I noticed no such shortage in prior years, so I have no idea what happened this year.
As for my individual performance, I was not expecting too much given the hiccups I had this summer. Under optimal conditions I would have tried to best my PR that I had in April, but that wasn’t going to happen. I’ll live with a 2:15 time, personally I’m more concerned about conditioning myself for Walt Disney World.
For a number of reasons however, it is unlikely I will run another Rock n’ Roll Philly Half. The starting fees for next year’s race has risen to $70 for one thing, but a major problem I had this summer with training was the severe humidity. Nearly every long run I couldn’t breathe because of humidity issues. Three days before this year’s race, I suffered severe dehydration issues. Instead I could put my efforts towards an October and/or November races, give myself a longer summer offseason to work on weighttraining and muscle buildup…indoors. I won’t totally escape heat training, but it gives me more room to play with.
Next year I also anticipate a slew of personal conflicts, mainly with work and leisure travel. I may be out of the country around, if not during, this time next year, making it impractical to even plan running this race next year regardless of how I feel physically.
However especially if you are not from the Philadelphia area, I definitely encourage you to run this race at least once. It is fast and flat and a PR haven if you can tolerate summer heat training. I would advise to register well in advance as CG’s fees are rising though, and unfortunately fees are putting races out of reach for many runners. If you cannot afford the fees, I would encourage you to run the city-run Philly Marathon (which also runs a half and 5 miler) in November, which is more reasonable and showcases more of Philadelphia’s varied neighbourhoods.
Update: After reading more recaps and comments about the water stops, I understand the water stop situation was a lot more severe than I previously knew. I am curious to see if Competitor acknowledges the issues they have had this year or at least after the results of the feedback survey come out. I’m not holding my breath, but I definitely plan on writing about that in the feedback.
Also that said, I’m more inclined now to recommend the alternate Philadelphia Marathon and Half in November instead, run by the city. I’ve run the half the past two years and the 5-miler 3 years ago, doing it again this November and the city has always had their stuff together with that race. It’s really terrible the volunteer shortage had an adverse effect on those not starting early enough (with corrals not being spaced out). The fact that a corral 1 runner noticed the shortage as well really says something as most blogs I had previously read didn’t mention the issue at all and most of those bloggers appeared to finish ahead of me. That all said though, hugely disappointing for an experienced race group. I’m just thankful that the heat wasn’t like it was in 2010.