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.