Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Race Report: Rock 'N Roll San Jose Half Marathon 2018

So, the long and short of it is that I basically ran a 1.5 mile warm up, a 6 mile half marathon pace workout, and a 7.1 mile cool down. In retrospect it might have been better just to skip this one, but hey, at least I got a solid tempo/threshold workout in, something that (for whatever reason) feels like it's been sorely lacking on my training plan lately.

I signed up for this race last year with the super cheap (as RNR races go) $59 re-run deal, riding the high of a four-year best time of 1:41:07. I do like this race and it's well done and a good course and not THAT far from hom, so I figured I might as well sign up & if it didn't work out, well, hey, it's $59. But that was before Boston, before running three marathons in the course of a month, before getting so burnt out on LONG-long distance races that I quit running for 8 weeks and decided the fall was going to be all short fast stuff, all the time.

Which is to say, this race had always been out there, but I was having quite a lot of trouble getting excited about it. I went back and forth about whether I even wanted to run it; part of me said, "Hey, you got the cheap registration exactly so you wouldn't feel bad about not running it, skip it & run something else short & fun that weekend," while another part was saying, "The money's spent, you should just go, and who cares if it's terrible." All this was further complicated by the fact that we're down to zero cars now (long story for later), and while we have an insurance-covered rental for a little while, Don needed it for the Stanford football game on Saturday, so I'd have to work something else out transportation-wise.

Finally, on Friday afternoon I decided what the heck & pulled the trigger on a hotel room & a(nother) rental car. I was kind of shocked to see that I could still get a hotel room on a very reasonable number of points at the super nice Marriott right by the start & finish but hey, I'll take it. (Part of what makes this race so logistically nice is that it's right downtown so there are a billion hotels just blocks away from the staging area; if you live this far away you pretty much have to go down the day before since there's no race day bib pickup, but I won't complain because it also means you get to sleep in, relatively speaking.)

Still. It's telling, I think, that I didn't even bother packing until Saturday afternoon. I haven't run a long race since Big Sur so I didn't know where anything was. I couldn't find my clothes. I couldn't find the bottles I wanted. I didn't know what gels I had. I never found the Osmo Pre-Load (which I 100% know is in my house somewhere).

I was annoyed that I had to walk to BART and then from Powell BART (kind of far, uphill) to the rental car place. I was annoyed that I was missing the football game and tailgating, so I decided after I got my bib to take the 4:09 Cal Train to Stanford, but then got annoyed that I had to walk (uphill) from the Cal Train to the tailgating spot. Once there, all I wanted to do was eat gingersnap cookies & drink beer. I'm pretty sure I drank too much beer. (And also, wine.)

As I said on the internets, carb-bloating, amirite?

By the time I got back to my hotel in San Jose around 8:30, I was exhausted. I kept myself awake long enough to construct Flat Angela & make sure I had everything I needed for the morning (and also to make brunch arrangements with BT), but then I completely crashed. I didn't sleep well and woke up suddenly several times sure I had missed my alarm (in desperate need of water). I woke up feeling like poo and DEFINITELY not like I wanted to race a half marathon.

Water & food (& coffee) helped, as did being in the race atmosphere. For all that I have ambivalent feelings about Competitor group, this particular race is a good, solid, competitive runner-friendly one, and when everyone around you is warming up and doing dynamic streches and strides with serious looks on their faces, it makes you want to warm up and do dynamic stretches and strides as well. The upside about not feeling super invested in a race is the complete lack of pre-race nerves & anxiety; I couldn't bring myself to care too much about the outcome so I figured, hey, I'll just do the best I can & see what happens. That was my attitude last year as well, and it paid off.

Elite/pro start

Warming up

Desperately trying to look like I want to do this

Like I said, I haven't been doing much HM pace specific work lately, so I was happy to see that I was able to get up to pace fairly easily and ~7:40 didn't feel too hard. This was the case for the first few miles, and then suddenly it wasn't. The course is very nearly pancake-flat but it does have a just-perceptible incline starting at mile 4; I don't know if it was that or the heat or the not sleeping well or just plain not having the fitness right now, but within the space of a mile I went from "Wow, this feels startlingly easy" to "Wow, I am giving it all I've got and my pace just keeps ticking up." One minute I was running 7:37 pace comfortably and the next I was running 7:42, then 7:43, 7:44, 7:45, in spite of constantly trying to pick it up. I just felt like I had no gas in the legs, like my quads and hamstrings had spontaneously turned into jello.

I think I probably could have kept giving it race effort and finished around 1:44-1:45, but I just had no interest in that. I only wanted to bury myself if it was going to get me in the 1:40-1:41 range, and since I knew that wasn't going to happen, I decided I'd rather just make it a solid pace workout & keep training for the 5K at the end of the month. The new plan was to push through to mile 6 at as close to 7:40 as I could manage, then take the rest of the race easy.

Which, I mostly did. I jogged comfortably from mile 7 on, walking the water stations, but admittedly picked it up a bit toward the end (because, end-of-race vibes) with a 7:50 mile. In the end I crossed the line in 1:51:30.

Yes, part of me is disappointed that for whatever reason I didn't have 13 miles worth of 1:40 pace in my legs that day, and part of me feels dumb going "What the heck, I'll go race" and then only racing for half of it. But given how my heart was never really in it to begin with and my real focus this fall has been the short fast stuff, I think it was an okay decision. Sometimes I start to question, "But was it really physical, or did you wimp out?," but I really do think that I've been doing this long enough that I can tell the difference. In miles 5-6ish I was really trying, really pushing, and just could not keep the pace up without ramping up into what felt like 5K/10K effort. Ah well.

So, yeah. Instead of a recovery week, it's back to training for the 5K, which I'm happy about. Looking forward to my first road 5K in three years at the end of the month!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: San Jose, CA

Date: Early October (Oct 7, 2018 this year)

Price: Competitor shows only the current price rather than the entire fee schedule and I was not diligent enough to track the various price increases, BUT I can tell you that last year I paid $79.99 + $11.99 transaction fee (!?!) in March, and the price had risen to $175 for last-minute expo registration. However, they were offering a 2018 re-run special the week after the race, which I took advantage of. (Did I do it again this year? You bet your sweet tush I did. RNRSJ, I can't quit you.)

Truthfully, the cost of Rock 'N Roll races makes me a bit ill. It is worth noting, though, that RNR now offers a kind of refund insurance that covers things like illness, injury, pregnancy, etc. that might foil your race for $8.99, and you can also defer for $45.

Deadlines/sellout factor: I feel like this race has sold out in the past, but as of the day before the race, there were still spots available if you signed up at the expo. (Online registration was closed on Friday, I think.)

Field Size: Finishers:

They've changed their results interface this year which made it super time consuming to look these up, so here are last years' numbers:

  • Half Marathon - 6,483
  • 10K - 2,403
  • 5K - 1,767

This year's were probably not significantly different.

Staging, Parking, etc.:

The start is at Santa Clara and Almaden, just a few blocks north-west of Cesar Chavez Plaza, and the finish is pretty much at Cesar Chavez Plaza, so I was excited that I was still able to get a room at the San Jose Marriott which is literally RIGHT by the finish & just a couple blocks from the start. (Thanks, rewards points!)

You might have to pay, but there is plenty of parking available near the start/finish, including several large garages and smaller municipal lots, and if you're super diligent, you might even be able to find free Sunday parking on the street. (I don't know San Jose super well so I couldn't tell you exactly, but I have it on good authority that it does exist.)

If you're staying at hotel near the start (and there are MANY to choose from), you're good; you'll just probably have to pay. (Eg, last year at the Four Points Sheraton, a couple blocks from the start, parking a car was $29.99/night; this year since I paid for my hotel with points I sprung for valet parking at the nice Marriott which was $39.99.)

The Course:

This course is near pancake-flat, and actually has relatively few turns for an urban race. (Don't let the elevation graph fool you, look at the scale.)

Every time I've run this race there has been a pretty awesome crowd presence (see: urban races), plus there are the bands if you're into that. (I tolerate them because I like the rest of the race.)

Aid stations were sufficient, well organized, staffed by super with-it volunteers, and--be still my beating heart--pouring real actual sports drink with real actual calories in it. Lemon-lime Gatorade 4eva. I carry my own gels but the later stations were handing some out along with maybe shot blocks or something, not totally sure.


Not that I need more of them but I am happy to say that the tech T situation has much improved since 2010! Both last year's and this year's actually fit, and don't make me feel like I look like a can of Sprite if I wear them in public.

Top: This year's shirt. Bottom: 2010's shirt. Good job, RNRSJ!

I must say I was a bit disappointed in the lack of goofy rock 'n roll theme elements in this year's medal. It seems we went Silicon Valley chic instead.

Can I just say THANK YOU to this & all the other races that still give out tastefully sized medals?
What is the deal with the crazy enormous medal trend lately??

If you are super speedy, it might be relevant to your interests that there are prizes for male and female overall winners 1st-3rd, plus 1st, 2nd, & 3rd male & female in five-year increments. At 6,000+ runners, including a fair number of elites and pros, though, they were definitely not relevant to mine! (I believe the men's race was won in 1:03:xx & the women's race in 1:12:xx hoooooly Jesus!)

If you decide to run:

  • If you don't live nearby, and you can swing the additional $$ or pull some kind of points shennanigans, I definitely recommend staying nearby as it is just so easy with the approximately 10 gazillion hotels within a five block radius. It saved me so much time & stress in terms of sheer logistics & variables to manage.
  • The thing about this race is that yes, it's a fall race, but just barely, and it's still in San Jose, so it is unlikely to ever be particularly chilly (though it did rain a bit in 2010). The high this year was forecasted to be 80F meaning that during the run it should have been only in the mid to high 60's, but 1) it turned out to be more like 75F during the race, 2) we had (as usual) full sun, so it felt much hotter, and 3) concrete gonna do what concrete gonna do (ie reflect that heat right back up atcha.)
  • Officially there is no race day packet pickup, but I overheard some race staff talking last year and it seems to me that they will definitely give you your bib on race morning if for some reason you weren't able to get it at the expo, but they don't advertise that fact since they don't want 400 people going, "Pshhh, I'll just be a slug & pick it up in the morning." So be a good person & pick it up at the expo if you can, but don't panic if disaster strikes.

Overall Assessment:

You know, for all that I am not a fan of Competitor Group and some of the Rock 'N Roll races have gotten bad reports in the past, I have to admit that San Jose is a really great, really well-run and convenient race for me. There is a reason elites come to this race to OTQ (yes you can do it with a half) and that people also use it as a NYC qualifier regularly. All in all it's a pretty great Bay Area option if you're looking to run a fast race, and I can see why so many elites and other super speedy folks run it. No, it is not the cheapest race you could run, but I (once again) just took advantage of that $59 2019 re-run deal myself, which I think is pretty fair.


  1. 100% of the time it's mental in a 5k for me - I'm just not into running fast. Anyway, at least you got a workout in. You're training specifically for speed, not distance, so I am sure that played a part in feeling like the distance was hard work.

    1. I'm sure that's part of it. But also I definitely did not have shall we say the *ideal* race eve. ( least part of that was just having trouble caring.)

  2. I did wonder how that race went! I was getting the sense that it was sort of a 'meh let's see where this goes' for you. At least you got a workout, a nice shirt, and real Gatorade at a decent price?

  3. I think you made the right call. See you at Oktoberun!

  4. Seeing you was excellent, even if your race left something to be desired! See ya Sunday! (Maybe? Idk how the 5k/HM timing works. Well, I guess we'll see. Hahaha).