Sunday, October 10, 2010

Race Report: San Jose Rock N Roll Half Marathon

San Jose Rock N Roll 1/2 MarathonLet's get the unavoidable out of the way -- I didn't have a great race. This isn't terribly surprising, given as how, just a few days prior to the race, I could barely walk due to some hip & tibia issues that had begun the previous January and worsened in the months leading up to San Jose. For a while I seriously considered scratching, but ultimately decided that if I were able to functionally run at all, I had too much money invested in race fees & travel costs not to at least give it a shot; if the pain got really bad or I thought I might be in danger of doing real damage, I could always stop. So, knowing it was unlikely this would be my greatest half ever, I drove to San Jose Saturday afternoon. (I did finish but was ~40 seconds off my pace the whole race, essentially limped to the finish, & definitely set a PR for slowest official time ever. But enough about me.)

Location: San Jose, CA, near Cesar Chavez Plaza

Date: First weekend in October (Oct. 3, 2010 this year)

Price: $85 through July; $100 through September

Deadline: Usually the last Friday in September (Sept. 27, 2010 this year)

Sellout Factor: Likely, but you can probably still register in September most of the time

The Expo

The expo was one of the larger ones I've been to; hosted by the San Jose McEnry Convention Center, dozens of booths occupied most of the space in one of the larger exhibit halls. I'm not really much for expos in general but I always enjoy a quick spin through, just to see what's there. I did finally find a new pair of anti-fog sunglasses, and discovered the existence of jelly bean "gels" (tasted kind of strange, but an interesting concept).


Pretty darn good for such a huge race, but I guess that's what $85 gets you. Plenty of paid parking reasonably close to the start that isn't exorbitantly priced, tons of signage to tell you where to go, and rows of port-a-johns as far as the eye can see. I also appreciated the sweat check, assigned corrals at the start, free bottles of sports drink at the start, volunteers that know the answers to your questions, and the enormous post-race spread.

My only complaint about the logistics of things was packet pickup. The only options were to pick up at the expo on Friday or Saturday, or pay $35 extra for one of the limited race day pickup slots. This is tough for those of us that live close enough to drive there on race day (meaning we're not planning on getting hotel rooms Saturday night) but far enough away that a second round trip is a significant inconvenience. I know it's impractical to offer race day pickup to everyone, but maybe it could be available for runners whose address falls within a certain set of concentric circles centered at San Jose? Just brainstorming here.

The Course

They're not exaggerating when they call it flat. I mean, like almost prairie flat. Flat enough that when you run into the few tiny, tiny molehills near the end your body actually gets a little confused. On the other hand, the course map looks like the solution to one of those black-line mazes you used to do as a kid. All told, there are something like 20-25 turns, depending on how you count. I hate meandering courses with lots of turns because in order to run tangents you pretty much have to memorize the turns, and if there's more than a handful, it's just not going to happen.

On a related note, SJRNR also isn't the most scenic course in the world. Winding its way through mostly suburban San Jose, it mostly offers less-than-breathtaking views of ranch-style homes and strip malls. (This isn't a big deal to me but I know a lot of people appreciate a picturesque trip.)

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the bands and squads of cheerleaders peppering most of the course. Whether this is a pro or a con depends on the individual. I actually really enjoyed all the cheerleaders (especially the younger girls) lining up in a tunnel for the runners to run through & reaching out to slap our hands, because they seemed so truly, genuinely excited to be doing it. The bands, I found a bit distracting. Often they were close enough that you could hear them, but far enough away that the sound was muddy & indistinct. So I can't say the "Rock N Roll" aspect of the race really did much for me.


In addition to a race bib and timing chip, your registration fee gets you a logo technical shirt, a hefty medal that they'll engrave for free after the race, and the post-race concert in Cesar Chavez Plaza usually featuring a few reasonably big-name performers (this year Blues Traveler headlined). I don't have much interest in finisher medals, but I always appreciate a good tech shirt (though the color scheme this year left something to be desired--I feel a little like a Sprite ad when I wear it). The size I ordered ended up too big, so volunteers at the expo told me I could exchange it for a smaller size after the race; unfortunately, by then they were out.

SJ RNR Finisher Medal

My overall assessment of SJ RNR was that it's probably a really fun and cool event for a lot of people, especially if you don't mind paying more for the big-name series (I totally get that they have to pay for the concert somehow). I don't think it was really my race, though (especially given the drive), so I'm not in a huge rush to sign up again.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Race Report: Bay Vista 5K & 10K

Bay Vista 5k & 10K

Location: San Mateo, CA, at Coyote Point Park

Date: Late August (Aug. 22, 2010 this year)

Price: 5K - $35, or $40 on race day. 10K - $40, or $45 on race day.

Deadline: None, as far as I know; you can sign up the morning of the race.

Sellout Factor: As people were still registering last year on the morning of the race, this one probably has a ways to go before it's at risk of selling out. Last year was the first year, though, and I have no idea if the organizers have any sort of cap in mind.


Fantastic. Easy parking (it's $5 to enter the park) maybe 100 yards from the start. This, combined with the fact that both courses are loops, made a bag check unnecessary. Since it's such a small race, morning-of packet pickup was super easy. Lots of great sponsors (Sports Basement, Road Runner Sports, Bear Naked, Jamba Juice, Fluid, Clif, Larabars, & more), & tons of free snacks & drinks before & after. Also free sports psychology & chiropractor consultations afterward. I also really appreciated how they worked hard to limit event flyers, use recycled paper for the ones they did make, and didn't give out a big plastic bag full of samples you won't try, coupons you won't use, and flyers for events you won't attend. Instead, you could pickup a reusable bag if you wanted (courtesy of Bear Naked) and grab samples to throw in it as you wanted. Finally, this was the first race I've done where the results were posted at the race site within a few minutes of the event wrapping up.

The Course

Except for one reasonably sized hill (conveniently located near the end), both courses are basically flat and follow the Bay Trail south past the marina and Coyote Point Yacht Club. Running through the park along the Bay makes for a beautiful course.

I ran the 5K as a tune-up for RNR San Jose and it was awesome. It was my first road 5K in years and I hadn't been doing much speed work at all (and certainly nothing you could call focused 5K training), so I was kind of nervous. I was planning to run somewhere in the ~7:15 range since I really didn't know what I was capable of at all at that point & figured that was probably safe. I was only wearing a regular stopwatch, though, & when we hit the first mile marker, I nearly choked when I saw that it read 6:40! "Oh, this is not good," I was immediately thinking, "NOT good AT ALL." It was possible that I was faster than I thought, but not THAT much faster.

At that point, my strategy became simply to hold on & run as hard as I could for as long as I could. I passed several struggling women in mile 2 who had clearly gone out too fast in an even more egregious manner than I had & latched on to a middle-aged dude who I thought was going a pace I could match (at least for a while). Glad I did because we were far enough out in front at that point that he was the only person I could see, & I nearly turned the wrong way until he shouted "NO, THIS WAY!" at me. "ACK!" I squealed, nearly running into him.

In mile 3, I wanted to die. I hadn't checked my watch at mile 2 so I had no idea how fast I was running, but I knew that letting up with less than a mile left would've been a shameful, shameful thing. There was a small but quite steep hill near the end of the third mile, and it was at that point that I *actually* thought I might die & the middle-aged dude pulled away from me & sprinted to the finish. With probably ~.1 mile left to go, I also sprinted to the finish, by which I mean I hurled my body desperately toward it & hoped that my feet would more or less stay underneath me.

I felt worse after that race than I think I have after any other since high school. Even a few minutes after finishing, I was not sure I would live. I was panting for breath & stumbling around like a drunk person, pouring myself cup after cup of water from the orange jug in the finisher area & attempting to get it into my mouth & mostly missing. I think the volunteers there were actually concerned for my safety.

I am pleased to say that I came in first in my age group and second overall with a time of 22:00 flat (7:05 / mile pace). I was more sore in the days that followed that race than I've been after any other I can remember, but I still had a great time & was glad I did it.


Bay Vista Tech ShirtOne of the draws of this race is definitely the technical shirt from Greenlight Apparel (made from 100% recycled materials!). It's a lovely shirt & I run in it all the time. Also, instead of a medal, finishers get a stainless steel water bottle (which I find infinitely more useful), & framed certificates were awarded to age group winners three deep by decade.

This race was just a ton of low-key fun. I'd totally do it again. :)