Passport to Race: Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon 2009

My bib from this year's race

My bib from this year's race

Your Name: Kelly Fenton

Name of Race: Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon

Place: VA Beach

Tourist or Local? Tourist

Distance: Half Marathon – 13.1 miles

Date you raced: Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009

Number of times you’ve run this race: 9 – every year since this race started!

Number of runners in race: 15792 finishers

Describe/rate the:

–       Start

I should start off saying that I love this race and have been running it every year since its inception in 2001.  Each year the running field has grown and this year in particular I was extremely frustrated with the start.  Unlike years past, there were no volunteers monitoring the entrances to the corrals (at least not when I entered which was a good 10 or 15 minutes after the official start thanks to a long port-a-potty line).  Because of the lack of monitors, people who should have been in the back corrals were mixed in with my corral.  Now, I’m not a super fast runner by any means- I was put into the 18th corral, but I did intend to run this race competitively (with my myself of course!) and was extremely frustrated by the MOBS of walkers that cluttered the road for a good 3 miles.  Other than that, the start is well intentioned by staggering the start of each corral by 2 minutes.  There is also a good vibe and a large space to wonder around before the starting gun with food, drink, and the ubiquitous port-a-potty lines.

–       Food/drink on course

This year the course served Cytomax which I wasn’t too excited about as I prefer good ol’ Gatorade, but it actually wasn’t too bad.  There were plenty of stops and some of them even had ice in the water!  This year they gave out GU which I declined in favor of my beloved Powerbar Gel.

–       Port-a-potties

There’s plenty of port-a-potties at the start, but the lines are, as always, super long so jump in early!

–       Course (Hilly? Flat?)

The course, which changed last year, is not bad- very flat with 2 slight inclines to accommodate a bridge you cross twice.  The road goes down to a 2-laner when it enters Camp Pendleton and it gets quite crowded!  But my main complaint would be the lack of shade.  When the sky is clear, as it was this year, the sun beats right down on you zapping every ounce of energy you have! I definitely run this race slower thanks to the hot, direct sunlight.  Other than that though, there are lots of fun spectators and the promised rock bands and cheerleaders.  My favorite spot this year was right before the return into town where Jamaican themed spectators cheered, gave out water, and had 2 hoses cooling us down.

–       Finish

The last mile is on the board walk and while it seems to take for-EVER to spot that magical “13” sign, the breeze off the ocean is great and the excitement of the impending finish is unavoidable!  Even better is after crossing the finish.  This is one of the best and well organized finishes.  Immediately after crossing the line, volunteers hand you an opened cold water (can’t tell you how nice it is to have that top off the bottle!).  Next comes a cold, wet towel, which feels AMAZING.  Now that we no longer have chips that need removing, we are free to keep walking as volunteers are staggered handing out Cytomax, bananas, popsicles, a bag of more food, and of course the finisher’s medal.  What I love about this finish is that there is no back-up of lingering finishers as the runners are forced to continue to walk in order to get through and out to meet their friends.  There is no confusion or line to get the food, and a bag is included so you don’t have to juggle everything.  Eventually you make your way out of the finish line where you can head to the beach, the beer tent, and the family reunion site identifiable by large letter signs.  Very clear, very easy, which is very appreciated after 13.1 miles of exhaustion!

–       Staff

Very friendly and lots of them!

Recommended pre/post-race restaurant:

I have actually never been to a VA Beach restaurant for this race weekend as I always stay at a good friend’s house where she prepares the most amazing dinner and lunch for all the runners.  However, I’m sure there are lots of great places to dine- if you know of one, leave it in the comments! 🙂

Local tourist attractions (running or non-running related):

If you’re gonna make a weekend out of this race, the beach and Atlantic Ave. are the obvious places to hang out!  I might also recommend the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center as well as Mount Trashmore, a landfill that was remade into a park!

Personal anecdotes:

There are too many anecdotes to mention in a single race report!  But I can say the reason I love this race is because it is the one guaranteed time a year that I know I will see my best friend, college roommate, and Races in Places co-founder JuliaHart.  We have been running this race since its debut in 2001 and have vowed to run it every year until the race closes, which hopefully will never happen!

Your Name:

Name of Race:

Place:

Tourist or Local?

Distance:

Date you raced:

Number of times you’ve run this race:

Number of runners in race:

Describe/rate the:

Start

Food/drink on course

Port-a-potties

Course (Hilly? Flat?)

Finish

Staff

Other aspects?

Recommended pre-race restaurant:

Recommended post-race restaurant:

Local tourist attractions (running or non-running related):

Personal anecdotes:

Other things to know about this race:

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The first long run back is always the hardest

Harlem Piers along the Hudson River Parkway

Harlem Piers along the Hudson River Parkway

This past weekend I went on my first long run in several months.  Saturday night I begrudgingly set the alarm and woke up early Sunday morning to gray clouds telling me to go back to bed and sleep in.  Had it been a month ago, had it been the weekend before, I would have heeded those clouds and snuggled back into my bed in my air conditioned bedroom.  But last month, the prior weekend even I was not in training and this weekend, I’m afraid I am.

For the last 8 months (wow! has it been that long?!) I have been running without a race on my horizon.  I usually run a half-marathon in the spring but frankly, after the NYC Marathon this past 2008, I was exhausted and wanted to try running without training.  This was the first time I’ve ever really run semi-regularly with out the promise of a race.

I must admit, I found it completely liberating!  I took off the watch and GPS and just ran! I stopped logging my runs and paid no attention to how long it took, how fast I was going, and I walked when I needed to walk.  Running became for the first time, a true stress relief.  I even brought my iPod along a few times! When I missed a run, I didn’t feel guilty for slacking on my training schedule, I just felt lousy.  My body started to crave the runs in a way it never had before! Running became my salvation, the time to truly decompress and work out anxiety.  Not that I didn’t have these benefits before while training, but when the sole purpose of the run was for stress relief and not because my training schedule said I had too, the benefits were all the more rewarding.  I was like a kid who decided to research something not for school but out of genuine interest.

The downfall of this type of free running was consistency.  Sure I wanted to run every day or every other day, but when days became full and projects piled up, running (along with sleep!) was the first to get cut.  As a freelance musician, my daily schedule varies.  I aim for structure but when a job comes in that requires everything to be dropped in order to meet the deadline, I drop everything, sit at the computer for unheard of hours in a row ignoring nutrition, sleep, and to some degree, hygiene (ew, gross!).  While the best thing for me very well would be to get out and run, I just can’t tear myself away from the work, unless of course, I am in training.  Then the running takes a higher priority (though I wholeheartedly feel it should always be given that high priority, I just have a hard time enforcing it.)

So now, in the midst of new projects, I am in training again, and my running is becoming consistent again.  The race? The Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon at VA Beach.  I, along with Races in Places co-founder and recent Spain runner JuliaHart have run this race every year since it’s inaugural race in 2001.  Admittingly, I am a little late to start training for a half, but this race has historically been more of a “fun run” than a competitive one.  The higher purpose being for me and JuliaHart to see each other and catch up (we live quite a distance apart) rather than beat a PR.  This race also serves as a great jump start to fall marathon training.  It basically announces the beginning of the fall and the return to training.  This is a fantastic race which we will definitely be posting about in the near future.  Which leads me to one final point…

Now that I’ve returned to focused running, I hope to return to maintaining this blog.  I feel very passionate about creating a place for ordinary runners to share their running stories, taking its readers on a virtual road trip around the world.  I truly believe that running, even more so than music, is a universal language that we can use to understand and appreciate each other’s various lifestyles and cultures, be it the difference between living and running in the southern vs. northern states of America, or far more reaching areas of our world.

And so encourage you readers to share your stories here, spread the word, and happy return to training!

Run hard but not too fast to enjoy the scenery!!

To iPod or iNot?

by D0nnaTr0y
ipodiPod… Dangerous or A Running Necessity?

I’ve always been in the camp of Dangerous.  At least when it comes to outdoor running.  But last night I broke my “no iPods outside” rule, and rather enjoyed an music inspired run.

Untill yesterday, I had always been an “only on the treadmill” iPod user.  And I always love those runs! The best stress relief for me was doing speed work on the treadmill listening to some great upbeat dance pop a la Justin Timberlake or the likes.   But I recently “froze” my gym membership to save money figuring now was the best time to run outside anyway, and that I should save up for this summer, when I’ll really need the air conditioned gym!  I’ve been loving my out door runs down to the river and back, but have been missing the exhilaration of the speed work.  I had planned for a fartlek run yesterday, but was not motivated enough to brave the cold rain.   When the sun finally broke around 5:30, I immediately stopped what I was doing, grabbed my running shoes, and as I was about to run out the door, impulsively grabbed my iPod.

The park I run is always well populated but to be on the safe side, I don’t usually run there past sundown.  Even though the days are getting longer, I knew I would be cutting it close with a now 6:00 run, and that this probably wasn’t the best time to try out the iPod.  But I did it anyway, and was pleasantly surprised!

Perhaps it was the sun shining for the first time all day paired with my upbeat and inspirational (albeit it cheesy pop) Grey’s Anatomy Soundtrack playlist, or maybe it was the fact that I was mixing it up by doing something different, but yesterday’s run was one of those soul lifting runs! The music definitely made my “now run to that lampost soooo far in the distance as fast as you can” sprints so much easier!  I felt like I was in a movie montage of the underdog getting in shape before the final winning moment! What fun!  I tried to keep my volume down so that I could still hear my surroundings, and while I could hear the nearby traffic, I’m not sure I would have heard a person addressing me.  Then again, this is NYC and one rarely, if ever, gets spoken to on a run.  So I don’t know if my sense of security was false or not, but I did try to keep more of an eye out then usual, just in case.

Despite how exhilarating last night’s run was, I don’t think I’ll be transferring all the way into the iPod camp.  As a professional musician who spends the majority of her day either composing, copying, or teaching music, my midday runs are a chance to not hear music, to take a break from it, and to enjoy John Cage-style the music of my environment.  And I did miss a little of that “white noise” that clears my mind so quickly.  However, on the days that I really need that extra push or motiviation, or simply feel the need to star in my own personal training to be bad-ass montage, I will not hesitate to bring the iPod along!

Speaking of training montages… here are a few of my faves:

Classic!

My personal favorite, from “The Cutting Edge” (1992).

This last one is from my favorite running movie of all time, “Saint Ralph” (2004) about a boy who believes that by winning the Boston Marathon he will perform a miracle, consequently curing his mother of cancer.  This clip shows the result of the marathon (SPOILER!!!), so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, DON’T WATCH!!!!

But if you have, you’ll remember how truly inspiring his race is, and will hopefully be inspired too, whether it be in your next race, or your next iPod accompanying fartlek!

Passport to Race: ING NYC Marathon

by D0nnaTr0y

New York City.

For many artists and intellectuals, the Holy Grail of Cities.

For many runners, NYC’s marathon is no different. Especially to back-of-the-packers like myself who will only see Boston as a spectator or bandit.

For Races in Places, the ING NYC Marathon was not just a Holy Grail, it was our Nemesis. One that has finally been conquered.

We have been trying to run this race for 4 years now. After many mishaps and failed lotteries, 2008 was our year. With much excitement and anticipation we prepared for the race, logging mile after mile and planning with precision the details of our long awaited NYC race weekend. Unfortunately, research of the logistics of the race went undone and we suffered the worse for it.

I realized with this race that I have fallen into a complete state of trust in race directors. I assume everything will be taken care of and I will be entertained for those unaccounted hours between arriving at and starting the race. With races so trendy and big these days, they tend to be spectacles within themselves with bands, fund-raising, even weddings before and after the race. It is quite easy to arrive and be herded around cattle style until the very end when you finally meet, tired but triumphant, with your family and friends. It has gotten to the point that everything is so organized and clearly marked, you really don’t have to think about anything other than your pace, and even then you can opt to just follow a pacer.

While I found the ING NYC Marathon to follow suit, there were some noticeable holes in it’s organization both in the start and finish of the race. Holes that wouldn’t have been a big deal had I done some race research or even used my brain ahead of time.

Fortune seemed in our favor as race morning followed the end of daylight time, granting us an extra hour of sleep. That combined with the late start of the marathon made this race seem immediately more casual and sleep friendly than so many races with start times of 7 AM (or 5 AM in Honolulu). But after a brief discussion with the transportation people at the expo, we were told we were required to take the 6 AM ferry to Staten Island.

That seemed incredibly early considering we were part of the third start wave and weren’t designated to cross the start line until 10:20. Plus, as the Staten Island Ferry is a free service, it didn’t seem necessary for us to ride at a specified time (it wasn’t as if we had to take one of the buses that had a limited number of seats and small window of time to get onto the island before the roads would close). But we complied with the request and drowsily awoke at 4:00 AM in order to get dressed, eat and make our way to the 1 train in order to get to South Ferry in time for the 6 AM ferry ride.

This was fine; our excitement kept us awake for the hour and half commute to the starting area. But our enthusiasm was quickly extinguished as we found ourselves at 7 AM hydrated, fed, and raring to go with more than 3 hours before our start time. I had already been to the bathroom twice but there weren’t even any port-a-potty lines to pass the time in as is my usual pre-race ritual.

And it was cold. COLD. Lower 40s and windy. Thank goodness for the sun that was slowly rising. We had thought ourselves ahead of the game for bringing throw-away sweatshirts so that we would not have to check a bag. But this was certainly folly as my capri-length running pants were no match against the chill and my hands and ears craved gloves and a hat.

We certainly felt foolish as we huddled together on the cold pavement with our luke warm Dunkin‘ Donuts coffee staring at those who were the wiser in heavy coats, pants, even sleeping bags. Idle and bored, I mused on the race hubris that allowed me to believe that after running 5 marathons (NYC was my 6th) I “knew how things worked” and did not put 2 and 2 together that a 6 AM ferry and a 10:20 start time would result in a lot of dead time in between. How foolish of me to not consider that when the weather read 39 degrees as I walked out the door that morning, that I might possibly be cold for all that downtime.

I guess I had assumed it would be taken care of. I’m not sure what I expected but sitting there shivering at 8 AM, I would have given anything for a heat lamp, a tent, and an amateur band covering “Brown Eyed Girl” to help pass the time. I was, however, impressed by the free breakfast of bagels, PowerBars, and coffee or tea. Chalk one up for the race organizers for the food, but minus 10 for no gentle reminder of the downtime and cold to be expected while waiting to run. Though of course, had I exercised some brainpower, I could have come to that conclusion myself.

After many grumbles and walks around the green start to regain feeling in my feet, the announcement finally came that the green start corrals were open. The announcements at the race were pretty cool. They were loud, clear, and in many, many languages.

J and I trudged our way through the crowds to the start passing a stage (was there live music that we missed?) along the way. We prematurely shed our throw-away sweatshirts, which we regretted as soon as we stepped foot on the Verrazano Bridge. The bridge was another unexpected disappointment; while the blue and orange starts ran on top of the bridge, the green starters were forced onto the lower part of the bridge, which was drafty, cold, and completely non picturesque. However, I was so grateful to finally be running that I didn’t care. A mile and some change later we descended the bridge into Bay Bridge, Brooklyn, warmed-up and excited to finally be running the marathon.

The NYC Marathon would be more appropriately titled the Brooklyn and Other Boroughs Marathon; literally half of the course cuts through Brooklyn, and the fans seemed to know it. The first 13 miles by far had the most spectators and cheering spots out of the entire race. The course also passed through vastly different neighborhoods giving out-of-towners a pretty good cross section of the city, including the more suburban Bay Ridge, the grittier Sunset Park, trendy Park Slope and hipster Williamsburg. My favorite part was the mile or so on Lafayette Avenue between beautiful Boerum Hill and Clinton Hill.

We entered Queens in mile 13 and I was starting to feel the dreaded marathon fatigue. There were many spirited spectators in Long Island before we crossed the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan.

Once on 1st Avenue, the energy increased by the sheer number of people that could crowd the sidewalks. Police had to guard the taped off street and the road widened allowing more breathing room. Personally, I was a bit defeated noticing that we were arriving on 59th Street, but had to travel above 125th Street before we could cross into the Bronx. But with the loud, supportive cheering and unending water stops, the blocks flew by and we were soon crossing into the Bronx.

Just like Queens, we were only in the Bronx for about a mile before we we curved back around and headed back into Manhattan, passing through Harlem to get to the park.

Again my lack of research snuck up on me. Throughout my training I had it in my mind that we would run south through Harlem and into Central Park from 110th Street in order to run up the big hill that sits at the top of the park next to Lasker Rink. I then assumed the rest of the race would follow the big loop through the park before ending at Tavern on the Green.

While I was happy not to face a big hill at that point in the race, I was disappointed not to be in the park. But at 90th Street, just one block shy of the famous Guggenheim Museum, my desires were granted as we entered the park and were able to bask in the beauty of New York City in the fall.

The course twisted and turned back out of the park where we returned to 59th Street and approached Columbus Circle before finally heading back into the park and up a slight hill to the finish line.

We gratefully crossed the finish line with the clock over 45 minutes off our chip time, tears in our eyes, muscles praying that this was not just another 1 minute walk break. The entire course was well marked, and the last few miles heavily guarded against non-runners intruding upon the finishers, so I was quite surprised when upon crossing the finish line I had to dodge men with cameras and other random people who cut across the way of the finishers. Any runner knows that when you cross the finish line it is important not to stop right away, but with all the people in the way, I was jerked side to side as if in Times Square on a weekend. Finally I made my way to the volunteers passing out heat blankets and medals, where I had to interrupt a conversation in order to ask for my medal. Tired, hungry and delirious, I was then unsure of where to go next. The road was no longer taped off and in many of NYRR’s races the finisher’s food is further down in the park.

I eventually found the volunteers who where giving out bags full of water, gatorade and food. This was great, but I then found myself again in an inescapable herd of people. Forced to pass by the baggage trucks (guess not checking a bag was not going to save me time in getting out of the crowd), we were then herded about a half a mile through the park before we were able to exit at 77th Street. Half a mile is not at all a long distance to marathoners, except for when you have just finished a marathon! Having to walk that unending distance before finally being able to cross Central Park West and sit down on a bench was almost as much torture as having to wait 3 hours in the cold before being able to run!

While the start and finish of the race lacked the finesse of other races, particularly the Rock-N-Roll Half Marathon at Virginia Beach who has it’s finish down to a convenient science, I found this race to be overall well planned and enjoyable. The course is for the most part flat and affords the runner many different views of the city. There’s plenty of entertainment along the way from school bands, to rock bands, to rappers, to cute old men playing accordion. The hydration stops were plentiful and they served Gatorade which is my preferred running drink. The weather was great, and the runners were polite.

I am happy to have finally run my current home town’s marathon and while I have never repeated a marathon, I have already entertained thoughts of doing this one again now that I have an insider’s knowledge of the ING NYC Marathon.

Do you have a race you’d like to review? Email us at racesinplaces@gmail.com

Passport to Race: Sydney’s City 2 Surf Fun Run

by D0nnaTr0y

Fun if you like hills.

Hills that really aren’t too bad if you can keep your eye on the prize.The prize being Sydney’s beautiful, sprawling Bondi Beach.

Starting in the center of the city in Sydney’s CBD (Central Business District) and meandering up and down through various outer districts including Edgecliff and Kings Cross before concluding on the promenade at Bondi Beach, this 14k (roughly 8.7 miles) boasts 70,000 runners, and the honor of being the world’s largest fun run. Be prepared to never break free of the pack as this run stays jam-packed the entire course.

Highlights include 4 color-coded starts, good old Gatorade at the plentiful drink stops (no gross Accelerade or Ultima on this course), heartbreak hill- a twisty-turning never-ending gradual accent between the 7th and 8th kilometer, and a breathtaking view of Bondi as you descend the final few kilometers. Be prepared for a crowded course of walkers and baby strollers, lots of hills, and no food (only water) at the finish line. And US runners beware- there are no mile markers on this course so plan your race strategy accordingly; just remember, there may be more kilometers, but they go by much quicker! Luckily this race is held in the winter, which for Sydney, means temps around 15-17 C (which is around high 50s/low 60s F) and perfect running weather. Despite running with 69,999 of your closest friends, this is a race every intercontinental runner should experience at least once!


I ran this year’s race on Sunday, August 10 with good friend Nadje and her sister S. This was my second international race and it was fun to play the compare and contrast game. The first noticeable difference occurred at bag check. Many races use elaborate systems for collecting your bags with long lines according to race number or last name initial. This bag check did require use of a special bag with your race number, but there were no volunteers to collect the bags; you literally tossed your bag onto the truck! Luckily, and much to my surprise, it was very easy to get our bag at the end of the race as distribution of the bags was much more organized than the collection.

The second most noticeable difference came while in line for the port-a-potty, or port-a-loo as they are referred to here. The line moved at the usual pace, which was surprising as there were two men going from loo to loo cleaning! And what a good job they did! This port-a-john was by far the cleanest bathroom I’ve ever seen at a race- complete with a handle to flush and running water to wash up with!

As previously mentioned, and shown above, there were four different starts.We were in the blue, which was rumored to be the back of the pack, though we went on the third gun shot; the yellow group starting on the fourth and last gunshot. There was no national anthem sung or band playing at the start, but I did get a kick out of the vast number of discarded clothing everywhere.
As we fought our way past the start line, I expected the pack to loosen up with runners edging ahead of the walkers. Sadly, this never happened. I don’t know if perhaps the blue start was code for walkers, but it may as well have been. It was a constant game of dodging in, out, around, and through the multitude of casual walkers, who were taking the idea of a “Sunday Stroll” a little too literally.
The zig-zagging aside, the rest of the race ran like any other.There were the occasional bands…

And some interesting costumes…

Let’s get a close-up of the painted dude:
The water stations were plentiful and with my favored Gatorade, though I am still puzzled as to why the race coordinators chose to use plastic cups, which broke to pieces beneath the runners’ feet causing dangerously slippery surfaces and ridiculously loud crunching noises, instead of the usual paper.

Finishing the race was, like most races, the best part of the race! But c’mon, who wouldn’t love a race that ended next to super blue water and white sandy beaches?


Do you have a race you’d like to review? Email us at racesinplaces@gmail.com


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