Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Race Report: Santa Rosa Half Marathon

santa rosa half marathonLocation: Santa Rosa, CA

Date: End of August (Aug 26, 2012 this year)


* Until Dec 31: Half/$75, Full/$85
* Jan - March: Half/$80, Full/$90
* Apr - June: Half/$90, Full/$100
* Jul - Aug: Half/$105, Full/$120

There's also a 5K - $30 for adults & $15 for kids. A little googling also turned up several discount codes, so you can probably save $10-$20 off of the current price as well.

Deadlines/sellout factor: The half & full both sold out a month or so (I think?) before the race. There were still 5K spots as of race morning.

Field Size: 357 in the full, 625 in the half, 395 in the 5K

The Expo:

The expo was in a tiny side room at Hotel Flamingo on 4th Street. It was SUPER, super small with just a handful of booths (packet & shirt pickup, SRM merch, sunglasses, water bottles, silver jewelry, Modesto Marathon, CPR instruction). I don't mind a small expo, but as small as this race is, it's still really too big for that room. You basically had to follow a single narrow loop, and people were packed in so tightly that it was extremely difficult to make your way through. I usually like to stop & check out the booths, but it was so crowded that doing so was more trouble than it was worth. The more people stopped, the harder it was to move. I would've been in and out in 5 minutes if it hadn't been for the crowd; as it was it took me twice that long to maneuver my way out once I had my stuff.

The Course:

The half marathon course is an out-and-back mostly along the Santa Rosa Greenway between Santa Rosa Ave & Willowside Rd, with the marathon making two loops. Most of the way is paved, though there were several long stretches of gravel, and it's astoundingly flat with the exception of a few dips to go under bridges. Technically it's very, very slightly downhill (like 0.002%) on the way out & equivalently uphill on the way back, but it's really not detectable at all.

One of the pre-race emails described the trail as fully shaded, which it isn't. It didn't matter much since it was low fifties & overcast (not to mention that the start time was 7 am), but still. Definitely only partially shaded part of the time. There were a few sharp turns due to the little loops you have to make to go under bridges, but that's really it. Because it's an out-and-back trail, there were very few actual turns.

My only real quibble with the course was the narrowness of it in the first mile or two. There were just too many people running relatively fast in too tight a space and I felt very, very unsafe. I literally had about a square foot of space and spent mile one getting kicked in the shins by the person in front of me, the backs of my shoes stepped on by the person behind me, & elbowed every which direction by the folks to my side (particularly those ill-advisedly trying to pass under these conditions). At one point I actually was elbowed right off the trail by a girl (who laughed as she called "Sorry!" back over her shoulder). The trail never got much wider, but it was a huge relief when the field opened up & thinned out some around mile 2ish.

It's worth noting that there is really nothing--nothing--to see but trees, concrete, & other runners. I kept looking forward to aid stations (every 1.5 miles or so) just for a break in the monotony. If you like interesting scenery/cheering stations/rock bands/etc. in your races or if you struggle with scenery that never, ever changes, this one may not be for you.


Other than the tiny space, packet pickup was quick & efficient. Instead of a plastic goody bag, we got black drawstring reusable ones, which seems to be a thing now, & I appreciate the effort to avoid the waste generated from plastic ones that often just get thrown away. However, I have learned better than to use the race freebie bag for your bag check. My bright, neon green one (thanks, Oakland Half!) stuck out among the mountains of black, and I was on my way in ten seconds with the hearty thanks of the volunteer who handed it to me while the rest of them were still digging around in the endless sea of black, trying to match bib numbers to tiny slips of blue paper.

The race organizers sent out an email with parking options a few weeks before the race, which was awesome. It turns out that there are several free options just a short walk from the course. I arrived super early (because I am paranoid & neurotic on race morning) & basically had my pick of spots in the 1st Street garage, all of five minutes' walk to the start. It was so easy & painless, in fact, that I ended up with over an hour & a half to kill. Ah, well. Better that than the alternative.

Port-a-potties were plentiful & easy to spot, & the lines never got very long, which is, of course, always appreciated.

The Race:

This ended up playing out more or less just as I thought it would. I figured I'd run it as if were an HM pace run & try to keep the pace up for as long as I could. If I was having an absolutely amazing day, I thought there might be a chance I could break 1:40 again (especially since the course & weather were on my side, unlike the first time I did it). I could tell by mile six or seven, though, that it just wasn't going to happen. I was keeping up the pace, but it was really tough. At that point I decided I'd run hard & try my best to stay at more or less HM (goal) pace for ten miles, and if I still wasn't feeling great, that would be good enough.

Definitely the most human I have ever looked at the end of a race. Also, both feet in the air FTW! :D
And oh my, was it hard. Harder than any of the pace runs I've done this year. I just kept counting down miles, determined to make it to ten. Somewhere around 8.5, I started to feel a little more optimistic & had a brief moment where I thought, "Hey! Maybe I can still do this!" Or, if not a sub-1:40, then at least a second-best time. But then I hit 9.6ish and right on cue my body began sending me every signal in the book that HELL NO, BITCH, we've already given you ten very solid miles that you DID NOT earn this month by ANY STRETCH, so CHILL THE EFF OUT. Intense nausea, chest pain, muscles threatening to cramp, a touch of asthma -- it was all in the mix. I think I probably could've kept going and stayed safe if I'd dialed it back to maybe an 8:15-20ish pace, but I didn't have enough invested in this race to risk it & just made a decision at that point to do the safe thing & jog the last 5K easy.

This was the first time I've done that in a race when I haven't been injured, and mentally it was hard to watch wave after wave of runners pass me. I stopped for a little while at each of the remaining aid stations to stretch, have multiple cups of water, chat with the volunteers, help them out (okay, that's an exaggeration), etc., then jogged on. Then, of course, we reached the final half mile or so, and advisable or not, I just couldn't resist giving it a bit of extra gas.

    Garmin: 13.19 miles / 1:45:01 / 7:57 pace
    Official: 13.1 miles / 1:44:52 / 8:00 pace

    Overall: 83/625
    Women: 17/388
    A/G: 7/73

So yeah. No big surprise; it's pretty much exactly what I expected to happen, given that I've run all of 70 miles this month. I don't particularly like the idea of paying for a race & then not being able to run it the way I know I'm capable of and it's certainly not what I planned to have happen when I registered, but that's life sometimes. The plus side is that I knew going in that I probably wouldn't be fit enough to race the whole thing, and realistic expectations can go a long way towards keeping you in that "It is what it is; I'll get 'em next time" mentality rather than careening into that dark, good-for-nothing "OMG I'm such a failure!" place. The way I look at it, I got in a long(ish) run and an extended pace run all in one go, which is more than I've managed at any other point this month.

And really. How down on yourself can you get if you stop twice to hang out & chat with volunteers and still finish in the top 10% of your age group? I keep reminding myself of that. :)

So. Healdsburg Half (this one, not this one - yes, there are two half marathons in Healdsburg in October) on 10/14. Who's got two thumbs & is super pumped to train (for realz, y'all) the HELL out of the next seven weeks? THIS GIRL!!

(Also, a quick rant. Do I have a freaking sign on my back that says "I am bored, please talk to me?" I swear, at least once a mile some old dude would try to start a conversation with me. I'm not trying to be rude, but I'M KIND OF BUSY HERE. It's bad enough that I have to put up with all of your wheezing and moaning and grunting and foot slapping and sports bean rattling and arm flailing and snot rocketing, but I put up with it because it's part of the bargain when you agree to run a race with other people. Being your chat buddy is more than I can deal with, physically and mentally. Unless we are already friends or I look like I need medical attention, leave me the eff alone. End rant.)

I'm totally considering one of those vests like they make for service dogs for my next race. Thankfully, no one has ever tried to pet me during a race.


Logo tech shirt & finisher medal, natch:

This medal narrowly beats out the Oakland Half one for the title of Largest Medal Owned by Me.

Spinner medals are rad!

Plus the black drawstring bag I mentioned earlier, pancake breakfast, wine tasting, & concert after the race. (I didn't stay so I can't tell you much more about those.) There was also a $25 all-you-can-eat pasta dinner at the Hotel Flamingo on Saturday night, though since it wasn't free I guess it doesn't really count as swag. (I did not partake so I can't tell you how good it was.)

As for the awards, the website has this to say:

"The winning overall open (below 40) female and male runners and overall female and male master division (40+) runners will each receive:

Each men and women age category (21 and older) will receive another nice prize, to be determined."

Nope, I haven't left anything out. That's what it says. Part of me is very curious to know what indeed the winners received, and what these other "nice prizes" were too.


1) A bigger expo space. More vendors would be nice, but the race is smallish & relatively new, so it's understandable that the expo is on the small side. However, the space was so cramped that people could barely move. (Only later did it occur to me how this sort of foreshadowed the first mile or so of the race.)

2) More folks working the bag check. They were making a valiant effort, but the line still got LOOOONG around 6:30-6:40ish. Adding a couple more people & maybe a second table would probably go a long way towards alleviating that.

3) I know there's not much that can be done about the narrowness of the course early in the race because it's basically defined by how wide the trail is. However, I'm wondering if it's possible to open more lanes on the roads for the first quarter mile or so to allow more runners to get out in front before they get locked into a thick crowd they can't get out of. The site does say that "We will most likely use only half the road for all the runners (narrower chute for safety reasons about a 1/4 mile into the race)," but to me, this situation felt anything but safe. All it would've taken was one or two runners to go down (which was totally possible given the close proximity of flying legs) & there would've been a massive pile-up & probably some trampling action.

Overall Assessment:

On the small side, reasonably priced (especially if you find the discount codes), well-run & logistically organized, nice swag, great volunteers, and a flat, straight course = not a bad deal. Personally the gravel is a deal-breaker for me, so the odds that I'll run it again are slim. BUT, I would totally recommend it to someone who doesn't mind gravel (and doesn't need a lot of sensory stimulation in a race). I'd just advise them to work out ahead of time how they plan to deal with the inevitable crunch in the first 1-1.5 miles.

Thanks for the good time, Santa Rosa! :)


  1. That *is* a cool finisher's medal! Wow. Y'all get cooler medals out there. :)

    Do you find it easy or hard to have such a narrow band of split times? To my inexperienced eyes, that looks impressive that your splits are within a 10-second band.

    That's just weird (and possibly icky) about having random guys try to chat you up. Bleagh. I don't mind if people passing me check in with me to see if I need a "hey, run with me" encouragement, and the very few times I've passed people late in a race and I have free energy, I might do the same -- but sheesh, I expect that most people are, y'know, kinda busy as you say, and I go the hell away when I say "heya" and the other person doesn't respond or gives a curt reply. It's not exactly rocket science to interpret that.

    1. You know, I'm so dialed into that effort level at this point, I don't even really look at my watch (which I guess is the goal). It's definitely easier when the course is flat.

      I can totally see partnering up with someone in the last miles, especially if one or both of you is having a tough time. Or even chatting if you're both running at a comfortable pace. I really need all the focus I can get at that pace, though!

  2. Hi,

    Great race recap! You seemed to have a good race, except for that mile 10 to 11.5, but still did awesome.

    The medal does look real cool. Unlike the little half marathon medal given at the SF marathon.

    I always feel odd talking to people I don't know on the course so generally don't say much to anyone I don't know. Though when I'm struggling, it is sometimes nice to have someone to talk to in order to get through the tough miles.

    1. Thanks! :)

      Yeah, I totally get partnering up with someone if one or both of you needs some encouragement. I just don't have the energy to spare when I'm running hard, though!

  3. Lol on the girl that elbowed you off the course at the beginning! Gotta love a little mixing it up on the course high school cross country style haha

    You ran a great race until mile 10! But yea, I see how you didn't want to red line it and push your body until the end. Good job indeed getting top 10% age group despite taking a break for a couple minutes!

    And yea I have to confess - I am one of those people who loves talking to other runners during races. Especially during half marathons and marathons, I will talk to a lot of people out there. Maybe because I get bored and want to break up the monotony? Unless I'm really flooring it during a 10K or something, I'll talk to lots of people during races. So I'm one of the people who you are talking about lol

    1. Yeah, not my greatest showing, but I knew it going in. It was still fun, though.

      I guess I project onto other people because during a race I literally *can't* talk, physically or mentally. I just don't have the capacity, so I'm kind of surprised when other people do.

      I just thought it was so bizarre that so many people were trying to talk to me. Way more than any race I've ever run before!

  4. You write such great race recaps, any race director should pay good money for such feedback! I tend to get over excited about the views, my outfit and Gu flavours, you give really good information. Well done on your race - from my slow-girl perspective, you were incredible. And come Healdsburg you're going to be flying.

    Also, you look lovely on that race photo. I honestly look like death in race photos, I'm not being falsely modest. No wonder all the old guys were on the shark!

    1. I'm going to tell them you said that! Believe me, I have PLENTY of bad race pics. In fact I've sometimes thought of doing a post where I just post all my worst ones. :)

  5. You do have great race recaps- I love reading them. Sorry people kept trying to talk to you, that would be super annoying and I would be the bitch to ignore the people and pretend like I didn't hear them. Usually I just get the heavy breathers that try to run less then a step behind me. That is really annoying too!

    1. I want to wear a sign that says, "Sorry, I'm really not a bitch, I just don't multi-task well." Isn't it funny how the little things can bug you SOOO much in a race? It's usually the foot-slapping that gets to me first.

  6. Great job listening to your body! You'll be in great shape for Healdsburg.

    I've also had people come up to talk to me during races, but mostly when I'm wearing Five Fingers. On one hand, I like to talk about them, but on the other, I'm like, "uh, can't you see I'm busy right now? Find me after the race if you're still interested!"

  7. Great recap and good job setting a good goal for the day. I enjoyed this race when I ran it, but the gravel sections are enough to keep me from repeating it. And I'm with you on the talkers. I don't mind it if I'm not pushing, but if I'm clearly working I don't have the oxygen. I would totally wear that patch :)

  8. I just googled this race and your race report was the first one to come up! I'm considering this race so thanks for the detailed recap and review - very helpful!

    1. You're welcome!! I've seen on Facebook that they're making some course changes, so maybe the narrow part through downtown will be insane.