Garden Spot Village Race Recap

2 start line

Garden Spot Village Race Recap

Race: Garden Spot Village Marathon and Half Marathon
Location: New Holland, PA and surrounding boroughs
Distance: 21.1km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 11 April 2015, 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: 98 km (61 miles)
Weather conditions: Clear, started at mid 40s and rose to mid 50s and sunny
Course conditions: Rugged roads through Amish country and with inclines and rolling hills. First hill is mile 5 and second hill for those running the half will be mile 8, a very steep incline. Unfortunately for those running the full, this same hill is mile 21. For those running the full, the course goes further west into Leola, PA, otherwise, half marathons make a turnaround on Peters Road at mile 7.
Preview: My first race back in Lancaster since 2010. The good news is that it was in much nicer weather. The bad news is that the hills and overall the course were extremely challenging.

Race Preview

I took Amtrak into Lancaster Thursday night and stayed with family for what was probably the first time in ages.

1 cover tent

On Friday, packet pickup opened at 2pm. If you are staying in Lancaster County, expect to spend at least 20 minutes on PA 23, as that road is a very slow road through Leola and New Holland. As I stayed in the west part of the county with family, it took us close to 40.

We arrived around 4pm hitting rush hour traffic. Check in was located on Weaver Road at the central part of Garden Spot Village, a retirement community that consisted of many complexes and apartment buildings and duplexes.

Check in was quite seamless. Check your name against your number, collect your bib, your kit and your bag and be on your way. Definitely though the shirt and bag were well done.

The Race

2-1 start

When we arrived Saturday, the start was right where packet pick up was, right in the middle. Off to the side was a slew of concessions, behind that was a tent where runners could get post-race massages. Next to that was a runners’ only post race meal tent, which awaited after we crossed the finish line.

3 band

Pre-game festivities included a band (above) and of all things, an invocation. Being agnostic, I had to remind myself where I was and almost shook when the crowd resounded with a huge “Amen”.

4 mile 1

But soon all the festivities were over and we were on our way. The gun went off and the crowd roared. I was frozen enough to wear an old mylar sheet pre-race. I would soon find out later that the sun would heat us up quite nicely.

5-1 somewhere in the middle

Mile 1
The first mile was on campus, then through another neighborhood before heading out on the first country road. I was feeling the ruggedness of Lancaster County already. Men in suspenders and women in bonnets suurounded me as did your average everyday local. It was mostly flat and fast.

Mile 2
We ran into the first slew of Amish families seated outside their homes and supposedly cheering on their loved ones. It was up an incline and hung a right as we headed toward a few houses covered by trees. First water stop was here as well.

Miles 3-4
More open farmland. We headed toward another development and down another rolling hill. Crossing a bridge that separated a farm and a junction that would lead us toward the finish line, we saw a second water stop. Amazingly I was losing water in my body at the rate that I had to use multiple cups to fill my bottle. I should have run in short sleeves, I was running in my Love Run kit from this year. Damn me.

Mile 5
Speaking of that shirt, another man dressed in that kit ran right by me. “Nice shirt!” he remarked. At least we had that badassery in common doing two half marathons in two weeks.

We went up our first large hill which was more long and rugged than steep. It took a bit of time and wind out of me, but I did manage to recover and take a first pass at an old classmate of mine who also lives in Philly now. A bit ironic because she is more fit and fast than I am. She probably was not having a good race.

After this part of the course the course opened up to traffic although caution signs were pretty much everywhere and any traffic was restricted to one way traffic.

Mile 6
Entirely downhill. It would be our first sighting of the lead male for the half, and first sighting of Mile 8, the hill from hell. The latter part took us such a steep decline that I needed energy to slow down and not run over people.

Mile 7
This was the turnaround point, marked by a large red flag. Those of the pack running the full marathon would continue past this flag, and the rest of us would turn around.

6 mile 7 turnaround

I was a bit winded at this point and stopped at the water station and the bathroom (having drank so much fluid) before the turnaround. Incidentally, my parents were right at the turnaround, but given the ruckus and the official at the turnaround point shaking her cowbells as she yelled at us to turn around, I’d completely missed them as I turned around and headed on the “good” or return side of the road.

7 horse and buggy

We passed a horse and buggy at Mile 7 as well, incidentally the horse lost the plot but thankfully it didn’t interfere with the runners.

8 amish girl mile 7

Mile 8
This. The most hilariously difficult part of the course. After we turned around, we faced the same hill we’d come down for Mile 6.

It was too steep to even try running upwards. I tried leaning forward but my calves instantly felt a nasty pull from behind. I was forced to walk and even then I felt that calf pull. I’d seen the 7min/mile runners also struggle earlier so I didn’t feel so bad. No runner around me bothered to run.

9 mile 9

Mile 9
This climb took us back through another development which thankfully meant another water stop. The last hill forced me to exhaust my water bottle, I was forced to refill.

The next incline was gradual and we went through another tree covered area. Several patrol bikers passed us by.

10 mile 10

Mile 10
Finally, another downhill. The same slow hill we acsended when approaching Mile 5 but in reverse. I passed my classmate yet again (who I’d presumed had passed me whilst at the bathroom). A great scenic view of the farmland, but the ruggedness of the roads made me want to get this run over with. We passed our second to last water stop then set off in the final part of the course.

Mile 11-12
Two flat roads on our way back to Kinzer Avenue. We went through more farmland and through some rail tracks. At Mile 12 I passed my classmate one more time and this time I left her behind.

More Mennonite families cheered us on the way back. And with that I could taste the finish line. THAT post race meal.

11 mile 13

Mile 13
Kinzer Avenue to Weaver Road to the finish line. I wanted to jump for joy when I saw that street sign. Unfortunately, I did not know how long that final mile would be – compounding that feeling was a massive headwind. We ran the final mile entirely against the headwind.

We passed an ambulance past the final development, knowing that was a key safety distance from the finish, I knew we were quite close to the end. One more bend…

….and then Weaver Road. The bright orange shirts of the volunteers. Finally. The end was near.

We made one final turn to the right and off to my left it was my parents and not far behind them, the finish line.

Boom. Complete. Not my worst time ever, managed to survive.

The Finish Line and Post Race

The first thing I saw were volunteers handing out medals. Half finishers received a silver medal with a purple ribbon and full finishers received a gold medal with a green ribbon.

12 medal

The next thing we received was a water bottle and mylar sheets. I then saw my parents direct me to the runners’ food tent, where only those with a bib were permitted inside.

The first thing we were given was chocolate milk from a local dairy. Next, we could serve tea, coffee, hot cocoa or further electrolytes if we needed. After this, we had our pick of oatmeal with toppings, turkey, chicken or veggie hummus wraps, trail mix in cups, banana or orange slices. And yes, the best part were the omelets (our pick of egg or cheese) and strata (eggs or ham).

14 meal

It was an insane amount of food and furthermore, I didn’t know of any other race that had such a post race meal. The hot food was much prepared by the kitchen staff but much of the other food plus any concessions outside were given or sold by local businesses.

15 post-food

I also caught up with my classmate.

16 post race

After leaving the tent, I queued up for the massage tent. It was a good 20 or so minutes but with 12 local therapists under the tent the queue moved quickly. I was given a chiropractor who helped stretch my quads and hamstrings and calves. It wasn’t going to fully accomplish the job but her stretches really helped.

Once I was through the tent, it was time to call it a day and head home.

Overall this race was extremely well run and supported by the community. At $75 for early registration it might seem pretty steep for a small race but the organisers really take care of the runners and the post race meal was so good. Race shirt was of good quality and design and really liked the swag bag itself.

The course was brutal but scenic and for such a well organized race with Clif gels at every water stop to boot, this race is well worth it.

The Love Run, Race Recap, Part 2

1 title - stadium

The Love Run 2015, Race Recap, Part 2

Race: The Philadelphia Love Run
Location: Center City, Fairmount Park and Strawberry Mansion, Philadelphia
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 29 March 2015, 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: Negligible
Weather conditions: Very chilly, start temp of 27F, windy. Rose to mid-30s by 10am
Course conditions: Course was changed from last year partially because of the regatta. Flat downtown and mile 5 Fairmount hill remains the same. Mile 9 climb to the Strawberry Mansion bridge was new and circle through Dell Music Center was new.
Preview: CGI Racing, a NJ-based race company, runs their second iteration of the Love Run in Philadelphia, with a course change and way more awesome perks this year.

Race Preview

The forecast was clear unlike last year’s rainy quagmire but the downside was the silly low temperatures. Below freezing to be exact. Also because of a regatta, the organisers were forced to change the route of the course – it was certainly different and the second hill into Strawberry Mansion would prove to be quite unkind, though a good preview of a training run for an even more difficult course in Lancaster in two’ weeks time.

The first half of the course took us through Center City and back on the Parkway and through Fairmount Park and the Please Touch Museum. The second half went hairpin on Martin Luther King Drive but took a detour into Strawberry Mansion before getting back on MLK Drive and down to the finish on Eakins Oval.

The Race

Walking up the parkway en route to the start line, my fingers were freezing and freezing fast, despite wearing gloves. I searched in vain for City Fit Girls, but despite searching the group tent area, they were nowhere to be seen. Bag drop off was straightforward, and the corrals were set up the same they were last year, on the East end of the Eakins Oval.

1 start line

Announcements, the anthem, and a loud roar started as the race got underway.

Mile 1: Chinatown

Within the first mile, I passed several Chessie Photo photographers and tried to feature prominently such as to get captured in the moment. We passed throngs of spectators on the parkway and through Chinatown. Right on 6th Street, and another right on Market Street. Potholes on this first mile were quite annoying. Actually they were very annoying.

Mile 2: Market East

Just like last year, a DJ spun tunes as we passed the Mile 2 marker at 7th and Market Streets. It was a routine sprint back to City Hall and back to the Parkway. I recalled nearly missing this water stop last year, so I positioned myself on the left to collect my first bit of water. Steady and straightforward I proceeded, around City Hall, to JFK Boulevard, and then back on the parkway.

Mile 3: The Parkway

An increase in spectators occurred as we hung a right back on the Parkway, through Logan Circle and back towards the Art Museum. I tried to take note of some of the more funny signs, including the Grumpy Cat memes. On the way back up, I caught a few more photographers and I veered as far to the right as I could to again catch the cameras. I always enjoy looking through the race pictures 🙂

As noted in last year’s review, the key difference between this course and the Rock n Roll course was that instead of veering right to Kelly Drive, you made an immediate left to Martin Luther King Drive and then onwards to the hill that laid into Fairmount Park. This is a race that for once, does not touch Kelly Drive and it is a good way to mix things slightly up from both of Philadelphia’s fall races.

Mile 4-5: Martin Luther King Drive

Also like last year, Martin Luther King Drive took on a long stretch, crossing underneath several bridges before heading through the hill leading into Fairmount Park’s west end. As we came onto the slow and gradual painful hill leading up to the Please Touch Museum, I managed to push through and only stopped once when I felt my heart rate whirl out of control. I continued steadily up the path without too much trouble after that.

Mile 6: Please Touch Museum

We hung a right on 41st Street, which to my chagrin, like last year, was pothole central. Honestly, this race reminded me exactly how terrible, no how beyond terrible, the roads were in Philly. We passed two groups of cheerleaders as we snagged more fluid before heading the long downhill back to MLK Drive.

Mile 7-8: Montgomery Drive to Strawberry Mansion

Once we veered left from Montgomery and back through MLK, we eventually hit the second hill that led upwards to Strawberry Mansion. One part that irked me about this was that I was completely unaware of the course change – totally my fault – but also that the gels were right behind the water and Gatorade and I had hit them without warning. I actually had to TURN AROUND and nearly hit two runners as I backtracked. I was honestly pretty annoyed at the lack of warning – there honestly need to be signs on course indicating what amenities are on course.

And if that weren’t bad enough, I was staring another slow steep climb up the way to the bridge. My legs were just not feeling this climb but I forced myself up.

We crossed the bridge across to Strawberry Mansion, and wound up circling near an outdoor music hall before getting back to the bridge we’d come from. Then another right down the ramp off the bridge where we came from. Back onto MLK Drive.

Miles 9-10: Hairpin Run

We kept going up MLK Drive until the infamous hairpin turn. Normally I touch the cone at the very end of the turn for good luck but unfortunately for me, a lady was standing right above it. Darn.

2 mile 9

The way back, my lungs started getting congested. Just awesome. Not really.

Then I had to remind myself yet again that this was a training run. And that time really didn’t matter as much. Not today.

Miles 11-12: The Stretch Home

Last few water stops. I started playing a slew of music in my head. Skillet, Radiohead, Alanis, everything that could move me. It did get harder by the foot and at points I felt like I was overheating. I had taken my gloves off at least by the halfway point, but my chest felt that overheating sensation and I was out of fluid entirely.

Mile 13 and Finish: Eakins Oval

As I crossed the bridge, the spectator crowd grew. Up the last climb. One last push.

3 finish line

And like that, it was over.

Aftermath

Like last year, the first thing I saw were the medals. Quite a nifty design, though I’ve preferred some of my other medals a bit more.

6 medal

I promptly picked up my medal and then a mylar sheet to conserve heat. We made our way down to the main tent, where water bottles were set off to aside and there could have been more volunteers handing out water bottles. Our bags were small plastic lunch bags with tastykakes, a Smuckers circular peanut butter jelly sandwich, a banana, an orange and another bottle of water. Quite similar to last year.

The Love Run, Race Recap, Part 1

1 title - stadium

The Love Run, Race Recap, Part 1

Race: The Philadelphia Love Run
Location: Center City, Fairmount Park and Strawberry Mansion, Philadelphia
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 29 March 2015, 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: Negligible
Weather conditions: Very chilly, start temp of 27F, windy. Rose to mid-30s by 10am
Course conditions: Course was changed from last year partially because of the regatta. Flat downtown and mile 5 Fairmount hill remains the same. Mile 9 climb to the Strawberry Mansion bridge was new and circle through Dell Music Center was new.
Preview: CGI Racing, a NJ-based race company, runs their second iteration of the Love Run in Philadelphia, with a course change and way more awesome perks this year.

2 entrance top deck

Race Preview

For the second year, NJ-based CGI Racing comes through with even more perks for the 2015 edition of the Love Run. The key thing that caught me off guard was the course change, which I will elaborate on in Part 2. The expo was relocated to the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park, which had the perfect space for a smaller expo, and wasn’t so static as the PA Convention Center can be. Only downside is that part of the expo was outdoors, or rather in the open stands, and given how windy it was and how cold the spring had started, proved to be unpleasant on that front.

The Expo

The expo was at Citizens Bank Park, which for some people, would prove quite convenient whereas drew complaints from others. Personally, living in the city, getting to the stadium is easy using the subway, though the walk from the subway to the first base gate proved quite annoying. We took a few escalators up to the clubhouse level where we were greeted by the welcome arch. I checked in with registration (given that I had a complimentary bib) and then proceeded to the very end of the bib line to pick up my bib. Quite easy and the area was loaded with volunteers. Downside? It was outdoors and quite windy. Thank GOODNESS it didn’t rain!

3 bib pickup

The bag certainly served its purpose, though some said on Facebook that the bag smelled of the worst PVC imaginable. Well I had to try to sniff the thing, but I could see why people were complaining.

4 bag pickup

Once we picked up our bibs, we headed into the club level area indoors, where a few of the race’s main vendors were set up. Mamma Chia, Philadelphia Runner, 2XU and a few others were lined up with their wares. I socialised with a few people that I knew and then proceeded to collect my mug.

7 mug

Pretty awesome.

We were told to go down one floor to check out more vendors and we grabbed a few more goodies. Vendors were lined up along the bottom floor.

6 lower floor expo

Also on the lower floor, was the coveted Phillies’ 2008 World Series trophy, apparently made by Tiffany and Co.

5 THAT trophy

I took a picture of it and with it. Quite a nice treat for the Love Run participants and visitors.

When I got home, I took a good look at the race shirt, which I really liked, although some runners on Facebook complained of the sleeves being too short. They were on the shorter side, but not terribly short for me.

8 shirt front

9 shirt back

Shirt was perfect thickness for a spring marathon.

The expo was on the smaller end for a 10,000 person marathon but the space for the expo was pretty good. Being at a ballpark allowed for a different atmosphere not to mention it was perfectly appropriate given that the Phillies in our race packet dropped two free Phillies tickets up to a $38 value in our goody bag. I redeemed my tickets that day so I’ll be taking the parents out in a few weeks as we always enjoy going to Phillies games. They don’t get any cheaper so this was quite a nice perk.

Expo was better set up in my opinion and those that took advantage of the ballpark tours were in for a real treat. Wind and weather aside, a very fun pre-race beginning!

For the Love of Running: The Philadelphia Marathon Expo and Tweetup

1 welcome bridge

Despite deciding to drop the Philadelphia Half Marathon I had previously registered for I still wanted to head to the expo and pick up my stuff (hey, I paid for it after all!), meet some friends also at the expo or working at the expo. And why not. I live here, I have a day off, and it’s not every weekend we have an expo.

It was a good thing I did though. Massive changes abound from last year, most notoriously the layout, the see-through plastic check-in bags (which should be obvious given the Boston Marathon tragedy), the headline sponsor, and from what I understand the higher number of total race sponsors overall.

First, the layout. I arrived at the convention center alone at around 12:15pm. Doors had opened at noon today and opened until 9pm, Saturday’s hours were from 10am-7pm.

As I was about to walk into the hall, a few flustered runners came storming out, saying they were frustrated in not being able to find packet pick up.

That was NOT a good sign. Sure enough I went in and all I saw were vendors.

4 full floor

No signs directing runners anywhere to packet pick up. I wandered around aimlessly until I stumbled into my City Sports running teammates at their store stand and asked them where packets were. Their answer? Way in the back.

And they agreed with me: completely inane to not even have signage up. And if they did, it was clearly NOT obvious where packets were.

I hung with them for a few minutes, both my crewmates Matt and Faith were running the full marathon and both were raring to go, even if Faith was nervous.

I walked past their stand to the Gore-Tex stand. Gore-Tex recently assumed the title sponsorship position, so naturally I was curious to see what they had to offer. Sure enough they had running gear and I queued up for a paper test to see if I had won a pair of shoes. Of course, I didn’t. I soaked the paper in their pot of water only to reveal the message:

“It’s a great day for….a run.”

Well, duh. Every day is a great day for a run. So what the heck did that mean?

“Sorry there,” said the attendant in a British accent. “You didn’t win a prize, but feel free to check out the rest of our station!”

Behind the Gore-Tex stand in the very back was the packet pickup. It was hidden by a large curtain panel, which explained why it was near impossible to find. Queues around 12:30pm weren’t too bad, bag pickup was smooth and I had no issues.

2 queue

The T-shirt however was not a hue I was too fond of, but the plastic check bag was completely understandable.

8 kit

The back of the race shirt looked like this:

9 kit back

After passing through check-in, was a much more massive merchandise area. Endura-Fit manufactures Philly Marathon kits every year and their area was at least twice as large as they used to be.

3 sales floor

As usual, the displays of jackets, armwarmers, baby clothing and everything was on a prominent display. As if their clothing couldn’t get any more bright and in-your-face, I stumbled into their sports bras.

11 crazy bra

Indeed.

After exiting the official shop, did I pass through the vendor section. The usual food vendors like Cascadian Farm, Larabar, Food Should Taste Good, and other brands had their shop set up. Success/Minute Rice had their rice stand and other companies had plenty of samples for expo goers to check out. Also unlike last year there were significantly more race vendors there to promote their races. I talked to CGI Racing (for whose Love Run I signed up for next March) and the race director of the Pittsburgh Marathon. I also saw a promoter for the Ottawa Marathon which is somewhere I would like to go as their race is quite scenic (and it’s in Canada to boot).

Finally, one of my more favourite stands in my racing history – the Clif Bar Station.

5 clif bar

Mind you, I sampled their Clif Bloks and their granola bars (which admittedly isn’t my cup of tea, but also sampled their protein bars. I totally dig their mint chocolate and peanut butter bars.

Finally I made my way over to the Fan Area, where they were distributing a number of things, including a life-size poster of the elevation chart.

10 poster

The Kids Zone was in the next area over.

6 kids

Finally in the center of all the action was a Chevy, parked there like I’ve seen cars of other sponsors.

Now wouldn’t it be nice if the winner of the race won a brand new car? That would be a sweet deal.

With the exception of no sign directing the runners for their bibs, the race expo was monumentally better than it ever has been in previous years. Even then, on Day 2, they fixed this mistake. My only suggestion is that I wish they would have an elite runner speaking at some point, I had checked their speaker schedule and none was to be found. With Competitor having abandoned their support for the elite runner (or should I say greatly lessened), this would be an area for the Philadelphia Marathon to distinguish itself.

On Saturday I had visited the expo again, however mainly to participate in what was called a Tweetup, a meetup of of Twitter friends, in this case, from the running community. Ironically I had helped to draw the entire thing up when I was still planning to run the half but being injured interaction with other runners was even more important. Despite a few bumps in the road in meeting up, we managed to pull it off.

We had all agreed to essentially meet up at 1pm. Around 12:30pm Allie (@anpearce) had messaged me that the restaurant would not give us a table until our anticipated party of 10 would arrive. I immediately hauled tail to the Field House where I met Allie, Wayne (@runnerwayne5), and Claire (@clemmini18). About 10 minutes later Steph (@mcginley43) and Anni (@annibanani2) arrived, but still short on numbers, the waitresses did not give us our table. Finally after Allie mentioned to them we were ready to go, they told us it would be a 45 minute wait to an hour.

Oh dear, time for Plan B. Anni then phoned Moriarty’s who thankfully had a crowd leaving at the very moment we called and in a flip decision, we headed over two blocks South. There was only one more issue: Rose (@RoseRunsOn) and Bang (@runbangrun) were on their way, and knowing they were from out of town, I was hoping they could find their way here.

They were familiar with Philly, thankfully and after a few tweets, were with us in short order. Another friend of theirs, Melanie would join us later on.

12 tweetup

I would later find out that I had actually met Claire before through Vee at the Amish Half, which we all ran in 2010. What a small world. And it was Claire who told me of her experiences at the Hershey Half Marathon which I hope to run next year. Other discussions about race preparation, careers, schooling, helped me to get to know the others better as we bonded over soup, sandwiches, and for the supporters, beer.

In the end, we all agreed we should do it again, and specifically, we’d be up for doing another Tweetup come that weekend in March for the Love Run. Ladies, if you are reading this…WE SHOULD DO IT AGAIN!

Hopefully this go around, I can talk about how excited I’d be to run the race, instead of sit it out!

2013 Rock n’Roll Philadelphia Half Recap, Part 2

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.

Race Morning:

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.

14 start

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.

15 start

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.

16 start

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.

17 off they go

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.

18 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.

Aftermath

After the race ended, we collected our amazing finisher’s medals. A solid design all around.

20 medal

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.

19 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.

23 queue

21 shirt queue

The shirt patterns and sizes were of your choosing, and they simply heat pressed your chosen design onto the shirt. Innovative.

22 queue

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!

24 beer me

After hanging a bit with them, we headed out but not before this sight. Reminded me of university days!

25 like uni

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.

26 WOTE

It was a great way to cap off the afternoon.

Final Thoughts

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.

Nike Women’s Half Marathon Recap: Part 2

Nike Women’s Half Marathon Recap and Race Report: Part 2

3-5 bedlam2

WARNING: Probably my longest recap yet of both a race’s expo and race itself. There were a lot of ups and downs with this race and my overall experience, that I’ve broken this into two parts. This is Part 2, Part 1 is here.

Race: Nike Women’s Half Marathon
Location: National Mall, Tidal Basin, L’Enfant Plaza, Washington, DC
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 28 April 2013, 7am
Distance Travelled to Compete: 198 km (123 miles)
Weather conditions: Sunny; temperatures stayed at mid-to-high 60s.
Course conditions: 3-4 inclines along the course. Most noticeable hills were Miles 1 and 10 (up and down the I-395 ramp). By and large it was mostly flat.
Preview: Nike’s first race in the DC area as part of its Women’s Series had a lot of ups and downs from registration to outreach to how the race was run. I always enjoy running in DC, but there’s a few things that could have gone better. Okay there’s MORE than a few things that left me disappointed.

I’ve covered the registration process, the social media experience and the expo happenings in Part 1. Part 2 will focus on the race itself and the aftermath.

THE RACE

Sunday morning. This was it.

I was excited but anxious. I made the decision to stay with family in Friendship Heights, taking the red line to the start line. From there it was about 15 minute shot, no issues with the subway. (A number of locals will complain about WMATA, but personally given all the time I spend there, I think the subway is only a problem during commutes and rush hour.)

They decided they wanted to tag along, which was fine by me, until we started running late. Luckily, because they held onto my stuff, this eliminated the need for me to go through bag check. If I’d gone and stayed in DC by myself, I would have had to allot more time for that, and the starting line was overall bedlam.

3-6 gunoff

After the anthem, we sorted ourselves out. Like that the announcer sounded the call, and the first wave took off.

But it was almost immediately the problems started. The corral enforcement that should have happened, never did, and this caused problems for a lot of runners. Most races will allow 30-60 seconds between waves and I was in the 4th of 7th waves. Further frustrating people was that waves were not even. I am a slower runner, but a shocking number of people entered were running at 10-minute mile paces or worse. This would not have been an issue if corrals had actually been staggered but they were not.

The second more immediate problem was there were TWO layers of fencing to get through and some runners, including myself could not funnel through fast enough the second fence. During the anthem we had been packed in, and it was terrible planning with the layout. I tried at one point to lift one piece’s hooks off another but to no avail. I was forced to wait until most of my area had cleared, but at the same time, slower runners from behind beat me to the main chute before I could clear the start line. This created more problems that I will point out soon.

Mile 1 (L’Enfant Plaza): Almost immediately, the problems started. Once I cleared the second layer of fencing, I managed to get myself on the left side of the crowd to pass as many people possible. A LOT of people started off slow from the gate and overtaking them took out a lot of energy on my end. More than I wanted to expend anyhow.

From Pennsylvania Avenue, we made a right onto 7th St NW and into the tunnel. The surrounding areas were packed with spectators up to the tunnel. Up to that point it was completely flat. The noise echoed like crazy in the tunnel but it was all part of the atmosphere. I was cool with this. Two bands played to the side in the tunnels to keep us going.

Mile 2 (I-395 to Maine Avenue): Once we emerged, we got onto – of all things – the I-395 ramp. Continuing downwards, it was then I saw the Mile 10 marker flipped over which meant one thing: the hill that we’d powered down would be our worst enemy when we returned home. Yikes.

According to my watch) we’d hit Mile 1 in the tunnel. Yes, another key issue is that I did not see ANY mile markers until the 5km marker. By the next mile I was wondering how far we were. Seriously?

We pushed off I-395 to Maine Ave SW, across the Memorial Parks area. This required pushing through two bridges/pathways north of the Tidal Basin. The crowding problems continued as I dodged several runners who were WALKING both on the right and the left sides of the road. It was at this point I was getting annoyed at working more diagonal than straight on the road, even keeping to the middle of the road did not help. It seemed there were a significant number of beginner runners who might have done better to stay in the proper corral (or wait to leave until the slower corrals came along) but clearly that did not happen.

It nearly resulted in my nearly rolling my right ankle avoiding three walkers across, but in a quick reflex, I steadied myself, preventing disaster.

Not a happy camper here.

The end of this mile yielded a glorious view indeed as we ran to the beat of the drums. Our first band was an Asian troupe dancing in a dragon’s costume and nearly half a mile later, we encountered another ethnic group beating drums in a rhythmic fashion.

Mile 3 (Arlington Memorial Bridge): First hairpin turn was at the Lincoln Memorial, where we veered onto the bridge and then looped around the circle in the Arlington Cemetery and back over to the Lincoln Memorial. The bridge heralded an amazing view and as it was nearly half a mile long in of itself, it made that mile go quickly.

I managed to take this shot just as we hit the 5km marker.
3-8 5kmmark

Mile 4 (Rock Creek Parkway northbound): This was our way up to the Watergate building, which somehow I managed to miss. The 5km marker was the only one I’d seen and by my rough guesstimation made me figure we were on Mile 4 or 5 at this point. As I figured, it was a slight inclination, going by another band beating the drums to keep us going. As for my body, I was keeping it nice and slow for now, anticipating the build in the latter stages but also in case my ankles or knees started acting up.

Even then the mass crowding still did not abate, except this time I was dodging both the cones in the middle of the road AND runners who were going WAY too slow. Infuriating. MCM was one thing with the beginners but this was ridiculous. Again, I have no problem with walkers, but wish they had stayed in the proper corral and kept the minimum 15min/mile pace! The fact that this was happening nearly 5 miles in made me more annoyed, if people were going to alternate running and walking, fine but again they should have waited.

Mile 5 (Rock Creek southbound): Hairpin turn and back. Seeing some of the runners behind us further inspired me: one notable runner was an adult male wearing a purple tutu and purple braids made out of yarn raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the key beneficiary charity of this race. Inspirational and cute at the same time.

Mile 6 (Tidal Basin): It was at this point we started catching first of many high school and collegiate bands. It took me back to my high school days hearing our band play.

It was then that I also came up on the 10km marker, only the SECOND one that I saw all course. It was then that I had hope, I was timing shockingly well and that’s when it hit me: I had the energy to push for a negative split.

Pick it up a little, I told myself. We were coming into Hains Point. I needed positive thoughts…

Mile 7 (Ohio Dr SW to Hains Point): Incredible. This was my FIRST mile marker that I have sighted on the entire course.

I looked to my right, and there it was, Rosslyn. I recognised many of the corporate buildings. Too many of them in fact from my business travels.

We were headed into the grind of lonely Hains Point. I soon found out I was not the only one who didn’t dig Hains Point even though it was completely flat. We just knew it was a LONG slog.

Miles 8 and 9 (Hains Point): Shoot me now. No seriously, shoot me now. Hains Point is VERY flat. It’s also very long and lonely and isolated, so little to no crowd support here. Nike had placed LOADS of encouraging empowering signs to keep our minds going, and 2-3 bands were lined up along Hains Point.

The Luna Bar station was here, so I grabbed a few of those and started slowly chomping on a few of them for some added energy.

It was also at this point of the race that my stomach felt quite wonky. Which was not a good thing as we neared the end of Mile 9 – underneath the 14th Street Bridge (of doom) and back onto I-395.

Mile 10 (14th Street Bridge to I-395): If there was ever such a critical point in this race, this was it. I recognised the 14th Street Bridge from MCM, the horror that awaited me as Mile 20-21 of that race as I battled it with a badly sprained ankle. Here, we came from underneath it and wrapped around the bridge, curling back onto I-395. It was then I remembered where we came from, the first two miles. My family had apparently seen me and screamed but there was only one thing that mattered to me.

That hill. The I-395 ramp. My muscles were tightening at the worst time.

“Oh God,” I muttered. “Not this. Not now.”

It was then three Leukemia and Lymphoma charity runners – including a coach came up behind me.

“Alright everyone, we have a hill. Lean in and take short strides.” The coach made eye contact with me, and in some stupor, I actually did as she hammered it out.

“Lean in, lean in, lean in. LET’S GO!” she belted as the other charity runners were audibly sucking wind. From the looks of their faces, they were having a more difficult time than I was.

This was something I’d never had done before, I remember the Odyssey hills stopping me in my tracks each of the times I’d have run it, and even that hill in the Philly Marathon would have me walking at least part of it. But this hill was worse than that and I was trucking it with the coach’s words ringing in my head and also with the realization that if I stopped now it would damn near be impossible to continue, especially with the same momentum.

Lean in, short strides. I was surprised this was all it took to conquer that hill. Was it that or was it just the fact I sucked it up?

I was in the zone. The tune of Kesha’s “Die Young” – of all things – was dancing in my head.

And before we knew it, the hill was conquered. Into the tunnel we went.

Mile 11 (I-395 to L’Enfant Plaza): The two bands that were present in the tunnel were still there. Lights blaring on the left hand side, their music kept me going. Facing from the gaps above us were loads of spectators, cheering us on. And soon, we were into Smithsonian territory.

This was it. The easy part. Except seeing runners on the return getting ready to finish didn’t make it any easier for me.

Then on the concourse, it was THAT song that had me moving.

Kesha’s “Die Young.” It would be my rally song for this race.

Mile 12 (National Mall): I tried to take off my focus off the returning runners to my left.

Pick it up, I told myself. My ankles told me to slow down, but not from pain and not from fatigue.

We continued southeast on Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol, and I came upon the final loop. Get past this loop and we were running home free.

To my right, looping at the Capitol, I saw a runner out of commission, having vomited with a towel wrapped around her and medical staff attending to her. Dehydration had been on the back of my mind, but somehow I managed to not need to run to the loo this race. That had helped my time significantly; the queues were ridiculous for all stops at the latrines.

Mile 13 (Archives): Home free, home free. And then the revelation of how well I was doing: the 20km marker and clock. I didn’t believe it at first, but then I failed to realize it was GUN time and not my net. I was doing better than I realised.

Up Pennsylvania Avenue, my muscles continued to scream. NO WALKING, I told myself, unless you pulled something, you weren’t slowing down and there was no sign of pain.

I passed the final mile marker and the incoming runners’ stream disappeared as we passed 9th Street.

This was it, the final stretch. The crowds were getting louder and so was the finish line announcer.

3-9 afterfinish

Finish Line (Freedom Plaza): I kept chanting to myself. It was nearly over. My calves were screaming. I don’t know why. They just were. But I just wanted this last tenth of a mile to end. And then I looked up at the clock and then my watch.

This was nearly two minutes faster than my personal best. No I couldn’t possibly be PRing. No way, not a snowball’s chance in hell.

I crossed the line, and then, records fell.

3-10 man in tux

And then the first thing that appeared were the men in tuxes, handing out the most coveted prize of all.

3-16 box

No further explanation needed.

AFTERMATH

I caught myself in disbelief. I immediately put any thoughts of a PR out of my head, just hours before I was thinking of the possibility of my ankle acting up given the likely PF flares I had been suffering, forcing me off the last two weeks. I feel I keep suffering some setback, be it physical or mental, no matter how hard I train, so I’d become cynical enough to not expect a PR too easily in the best of circumstances.

This race? Scared (okay, paranoid is more like it) of my ankles, I had NO expectations.

Somehow it happened today. The only thing that I could possibly think of was the powering through Mile 10 and how that hill didn’t stop me. In most cases I would have slowed down. Most hills get me to slow down, but that Leukemia and Lymphoma coach was there in the right place at the right time.

After making my way across the red carpet – yes there was red carpet, did I make my way to the men in black, handing out those boxes. Then the refreshments followed: Luna bars, bananas, Dole fruit cups, water, and finally, the finishers’ shirts. A Tiffany green with neon lettering. Quite fitting, figuratively and literally: the Nike shirts run small compared to other brands. I wear smalls in most brands, but needed a medium here.

3-17 shirt

Once we were past the finisher’s exchange, the rest of the area included a Nike shop, Paul Mitchell and bareMinerals stations to get makeovers and haircuts ($15 to benefit the charity).

3-14 shop

3-15 finisharea

My support had spotted me at Mile 10, but they mentioned that my head was facing down and that I was clearly not paying attention to the crowd. I think I might have been in the zone, and that might have been a good thing.

3-20 frontcloseup

OVERALL VERDICT

Regarding my performance, having pulled a PR despite injury scare, this gives me serious hope that I can make some progress with dropping times soon after nearly 3 years of inconsistent times largely due to school. I can only imagine what it would have been like if I had been 100% the whole time, but now I can best rest and re-evaluate the sensible and sustainable steps to keep moving forward. My changes have been paying off and I just have to keep looking up.

Regarding the race itself, I had to rate this on a scale of 1 to 10 SOLELY on the aspects I experienced I would give it a 7/10. I imagine DC locals would have given this race a lower rating based on the Cherry Blossom route and the bedlam with the corral start, especially when compared with other main established races in the area. The social media aspect as well as the inventory availability for the exclusive merchandise would have also been frustrating for those who wanted to pay the money and buy. When you consider how much you have to PAY for this race compared to other races (especially at the regular rate), you would have to wonder if the overall experience was really worth the price. I know the WMATA orange line situation was out of their control, but other aspects were not.

I was willing to forgive organisers for the cramped expo conditions but the corral problems at the start soured my actual race experience. Yes, this is Nike’s first foray into DC, but I also expected more of them as they had organised races in San Francisco.

And yes, I learnt later on, that this race is VERY similar to the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, which I have never run. This disappointed one veteran of that race who wanted a unique experience on course. (Incidentally all three of Philly’s half marathon courses are quite different which I am grateful for!)

However, this is not to take away from those that did work hard to put this race together. In light of the Boston bombings, not once did I feel unsafe. Security was everywhere. Volunteers were everywhere. Stewards were also everywhere on the course. I never felt like I had any problems with any staff. Vendors at the expo were very courteous. I enjoyed getting to meet Becca and chatted with others as we were queued up wherever. The DC atmosphere is electric (except for Hains Point of course) and today proved another reason I will try and run another DC race or two if I can.

The swag was overall awesome and the Tiffany necklace made all the difference for most runners, myself included. I don’t ever see myself buying Tiffany jewellery, but this is one that I will wear proudly for ages.

3-19 Front and back

Finish line area was VERY expansive and WAY more organised than the expo, so props to Nike.

So, the question of now of whether I would repeat this race. At the discounted rate, MAYBE. If their corralling was more clean and efficient, I would have given this race a 9/10. As for the rest of the course, I wasn’t thrilled with the I-395 ramp placement but at least I can train for it. Then again, hills and Hains Point didn’t dampen my MCM experience either. The course elevation wasn’t anywhere close to the biggest issue. Even my lack of sighting the mile markers (I have no issues with km) wasn’t a problem for me, though it would have been for others, especially beginners.

This race didn’t have anywhere near the capacity of MCM but well over 10,000 which warranted corrals. I – a relatively slow runner – was, and finished in the fastest third (!!!) of the pack and somehow I managed to have massive problems overtaking people well into Mile 5.

Something is clearly wrong with this picture. I can understand even the second mile (as is the case in a more packed Philly marathon) but dodging people at Mile 5?

If Nike can learn from their mistakes this year and clean things up for next year, maybe. Distribute a beginner’s info packet maybe to some people? I know MCM have panels specifically for beginners. I wish more races would have something like this. But the corralling falls strictly on Nike here.

Another complaint was the lack of official race photography. There were many complaints from other runners about the lack of finish line photography, although there was a photo stand to do it yourself at the edge of the finish village.

From reading other reviews and blogs though, I – and other runners – are not fully convinced this experience is worth the full rate of $160, particularly when comparing to the other DC races that are held. Hopefully for the sake of future DC and SF runners Nike takes note of the runner feedback. Both beginners and veterans deserve better, I think.

Nike Women’s Half Marathon Recap: Part 1

Nike Women’s Half Marathon Recap and Race Report: Part 1

WARNING: Probably my longest recap yet of both a race’s expo and race itself. There were a lot of ups and downs with this race and my overall experience, that I’ve broken this into two parts. Social media is a very large component of this race’s experience as well.

For Part 2, which focuses on the race, please click here.

2-10 thetent

Race: Nike Women’s Half Marathon
Location: National Mall, Tidal Basin, L’Enfant Plaza, Washington, DC
Distance: 21.1 km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 28 April 2013, 7am
Distance Travelled to Compete: 198 km (123 miles)
Weather conditions: Sunny; temperatures stayed at mid-to-high 60s.
Course conditions: 3-4 inclines along the course. Most noticeable hills were Miles 1 and 10 (up and down the I-395 ramp). By and large it was mostly flat.
Preview: Nike’s first race in the DC area as part of its Women’s Series had a lot of ups and downs from registration to outreach to how the race was run. I always enjoy running in DC, but there’s a few things that could have gone better. Okay there’s MORE than a few things that left me disappointed.

Registration Process: I had written more about the registration process here. I had bypassed the lottery process as a graduate student, paying a reduced rate and securing confirmation immediately. To make sure I don’t screw up, I will be checking MANY times for my student ID, as it is needed to secure the bib and the corral bracelet.

But again, I give these guys props for guaranteeing entry and a discounted rate (even if still on the high side) for students. Life can be miserable as a graduate student but guaranteed and discounted entry for a very popular race has lifted my spirits in more ways than one. I don’t know of any other race or race series that gives this type of preference for students.

Interface/Website:

Probably one of my main gripes about this race, and seemingly other Nike races, is that their FACEBOOK page is their main website. Several other runners have complained on FB, on Twitter, and even in person at the expo about not wanting to put everything on FB. I have also seen comments from other runners complaining about their support and quite honestly I don’t see their social media staff answering all the questions I see thrown at them on their Facebook page.

Not to mention I am one of many people looking to leave Facebook soon. (Although I plan on nuking my personal page, I may consider a running-oriented/fitness branded page…not sure yet.)

They have an email address in their FAQ for enquiries. But by placing prominence on their FB page, they are not making it any easier for people to contact them. They DO have a standalone page for registration that is integrated with their Nike+ application, but surely the race pages should be based from that site and not Facebook?

Their Twitter account, however, is very active. It seems many times when I included the official hashtag #werunDC, especially in an inquiry, they always responded. More real time interaction is in? I mean if they want to integrate other social media sites, great, but Facebook should not be the forefront of things.

Besides, Nike’s own Running app encourages social interaction, why does it need Facebook to anchor it? I do not nor have I ever worked for Nike, so I must be missing something.

I could understand if it were a small town race where the race directors are scrimping by, but it doesn’t even cost that much to run a website, and Nike Series races? Please.

But then again, whoever is running their Twitter account is quite engaging.

Props to whoever is running their Twitter account, but again a massive headache for people who simply don’t use that much social media.

Emails disseminated have been orderly and on time. No issues here. The essential information IS on their PDFs, but there are some extras on their social media sites that some people may care more about to enhance their experience.

The Expo:

The expo is being held at the Georgetown Harbour off at Thomas Jefferson Street (between 30th and 31st) off M Street NW. I know this area TOO well – it is where my favourite bakery (all time) is located: Baked and Wired. Incredible and eclectic cupcakes and a lot of bang for the buck – no lie.

2-1 the wall

When I first arrived on M Street I saw the massive wall of names on Nike’s Georgetown store and eventually found mine.

2-8 finally

I had gotten to the expo quite late in the process, and all the while I was chatting it up with Becca (@onelittlebecca) who lives in the DC area. We had been tweeting to each other and agreed to catch each other at the expo. I had been waiting in the queue which was ridiculously long when I had seen her with her boot.

Luckily that queue was moving through fast, and credit to Nike organisers for having the volunteer force to get people through. The sun was beating down on the harbour quite nastily so the heat was getting annoying quickly.

1-2 banner

1-1 tent

When I checked in, I showed her my university ID and my licence before she gave me her bib. Thank goodness it was under 8000. Numbers above 8000 would have required me to change trains and that would have been a further problem for reasons I will explain later.

I got a green bag that was required for bag check (which I elected not to make use of later on), goodies and such. I’ve had Luna bars time and time again before, but I’ve never had the Somersaults snacks before, and sampling all their varieties, I fell in love. They are absolutely delicious!

One key difference though: unlike most races, you do NOT get your tech shirt at packet pickup. You get it AFTER you finish – IF you should finish. Of all my races, this is the first one to have done it this way. Shamrock Fest (Virginia Beach) gives you a race shirt before AND another shirt or piece of swag AFTERWARDS if you finish.

The expo tent was VERY small, but there WAS a lot going on. So much, actually, that it was extremely crowded. As people came in, there was a wall of tweets and pics taken and tagged on Instagram and Twitter.

1-5 glass wall

Across from that was the Nuun sampling station, which I tried out. Earlier on, I had bought the tri-berry tablet pack to ease in with my stomach, and this was a good thing. The fizziness of the drink didn’t go down well, but if I refrigerated or left the drink warm, it was flat enough to work well with me.

1-4 nuun

Behind that section was the Nike shoe area. This was where I got my gait tested, and some shoe recs. As predicted, the attendant said I had a straight gait with slight overpronation, and recommended a stability shoe, since I was pressing quite hard on the outer edges of my feet.

1-3 green

1-6 shoes

I also got a bra fitting which helped. My racing bra is a compression bra, and a non-compression type would help in some circumstances. They recommended merchandise for me to buy at the nearby Georgetown store, but now I know what shoe to keep an eye for if I needed to purchase another Nike shoe. Very helpful overall for those people not knowledgeable enough about proper fitting bras and shoes, and considering the number of first timers here, I imagine it would have helped.

Also we had the ability to use cards that Nike gave us to see if we’d won prizes. At three different stations, we would enter the card’s code and it would tell us if we’d won. Unfortunately mine was no dice. However, I did use my Nike apps to track my runs, so attendants did give us bracelets.

2-13 cards

2-15 wrist

Other stations included products oriented towards women, and understandably so. There was the bareMinerals station where women could get their makeup done (foundation, concealer, moisturizer, bronzer, etc) and being a darker complexioned individual, I often struggled to find a proper shade of makeup, so I sat in to see what the makeup artist would say. I sat in alright, and I don’t know what it was, but I think my face was a shade lighter than what I had come in with. I didn’t look awful, but deary me. I think I’ll stick with my Estee Lauder foundation after all. (D’oh!)

1-12 gobare3

The Paul Mitchell station featured an area where women could get their hair done. I took a sample or two of their hairspray and shampoo was also included with the expo swag bag, and unfortunately I found the queue entirely too long, so I skipped this part. Not to mention I had been on my feet and wanted to get back to the hotel and rest.

1-10 Paul Mitchell mini-salon

Across from the Paul Mitchell area was where elite athletes gave talks. I was queued up for one of the Nike stations when one of my favourite runners, Shalane Flanagan was giving words of advice, and unfortunately I could not get close enough to her. Crikey.

Finally, the Luna station. I’ve always been a big fan of Luna bars, LONG before I took up running. At this station we could make signs for our encouragement and such.

2-12 blue motivation

Out back was a massive sign planted by Nike and I took a few moments to enjoy the harbourside.

1-17 sign2

1-13 harbourside

1-14 boat

Finally, feeling the fatigue in my legs, I jetted the red line back to where I was staying. Overall, I felt the expo was very cramped, and whilst the activities were very engaging, they could have used a lot more space.

This is partially my fault for not getting there until Saturday however; to Nike’s credit, they were also open Thursday and Friday. Another criticism I had heard from other runners is that their special edition shoes (which I wouldn’t buy as I feel they are too expensive at well over $100 a pair) were in short supply. As a resident of Philly however, nearby running store Philadelphia Runner did carry select merchandise themed for this race, so I could have gone there and bypassed the bedlam if I had felt the need.

The race and aftermath is covered in Part 2 of my recap.

Cheers!