Matt’s Guest Blog: Rock n Roll Philadelphia

The Rock n Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon marked the first competitive long race that I had run since last April (June’s 5k excluded). It’s impossible to replicate race day energy during training runs, so it was great to be back in a race environment.

My only other half marathon experience was the Rock n Roll (RnR) USA last March in DC. I went into that race with minimal training having logged fewer than 40 total miles in the months of November, December, January and February. I was rolling the dice a little bit, but the 25 last-minute training miles prepped me enough to finish pretty strong with a time of 2:03:16 (9:25/mi pace).

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2013 Rock n Roll USA Half course route (purple)

Needless to say, I’ve become a stronger runner since last March and I really wanted to shatter my RnR USA time. My goal was to beat the 2:03 time by 20 minutes. Lately, we’ve been intentionally training slow, so it’s been awhile since I’ve run fast, much less sustained it for 13 miles. The prior weekend’s 15 mile run really wore out my left leg (quad and hip flexor), so I chose to sit out over half of the weekday runs to help accelerate the healing for the RnR Philadelphia.

The Race:

We arrived at the start line about 45 minutes before the race began and I was suddenly reminded that I need to adjust to fall weather (first time running in 50’s since spring). The outhouse situation was not very well managed. I have yet to go to a race where I’m impressed with the speed of lines for outhouses, but +/-30 mins is not very good.

Samantha’s parents dropped us off near the start line, so we didn’t need to use the bag check, which I was happy about after the disaster that was the RnR USA baggage claim. In DC, they used school buses to organize, transport and distribute probably 10,000+ bags. It was not easy for the volunteers to quickly find a bag in a school bus and pass it out the emergency exit. How did they fix that for Philadelphia? UPS trucks – a vehicle specifically designed for quickly finding packages and distributing them! Great fix on that one RnR.

I followed Kathleen, Mike and Samantha to corral 5 with about 3 minutes to spare (I moved myself up from corral 7). The first couple miles were predictably crowded with people jockeying to get enough space to hit their intended paces. We started on a 3 lane road (Benjamin Franklin Parkway), so it took maybe 2 miles for the crowd to break apart enough to focus on running and not the people 6 inches away from you.

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The Nike+ GPS watch had some problems with the tall buildings in this portion of downtown. I guess I just couldn’t get a good enough lock on the satellites to accurately pin me. Other than this area, I had no problems with the GPS watch.

The first ⅓ of the race was primarily urban, which has pros and cons. I think its safe to say most runners like the big crowds of spectators cheering them on in the first few miles. I particularly liked the bewildered looks on the faces of people coming out of their downtown hotels. There were certainly a ton of things to look at during the city portion of the run, so I really enjoyed that. The road surface wasn’t great with lots of cracks, utility covers, manholes, etc, so you had to keep an eye on the ground. Honestly, the roots on the Mount Vernon Trail are probably just as dangerous, so it wasn’t a big deal.

The road surface for the 2nd third of the race on Kelly Drive (which follows the Schuylkill River) was really nice. The trade off was a decrease in crowd support as we began running away from the city and into a park area. I was expecting this, so it wasn’t a huge disappointment. A combination of flat topography, a smooth road surface and mile 5.5’s Accel Gel made this a prime stretch to push my speed up.

2013 Rock n Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon Route (shown through Nike+ with pace gradient)

2013 Rock n Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon Route (shown through Nike+ with pace gradient)

Unfortunately the gel didn’t seem to agree with me around miles 7-8. I was able to keep my pace up during this slight acid reflux-y feeling though, so at least it was tolerable. Looking back, I think my body was not used to running sub 8:00 miles, much less eating during them.

The bands which were performing on the Kelly Drive portion of the race were pretty good and a nice distraction to my temporary esophageal issue. Overall, I’d say the Philadelphia bands were more memorable than the RnR USA ones (particularly the warm-up band at the finish line area).

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The pace dip correlates to a break I took to tie my shoes. In order to make up for lost time, I kicked it up a notch once the sneakers were tied up. The downhill grade helped as well!

My stomach never quite recovered from the shock of mile 5.5’s Accel Gel, so I chose to skip the planned mile 10 gel. As I had mentioned in past posts, it takes about 10-15 minutes to feel the energy effects of these gels, so mile 10 would give me a solid burst for the last chunk of the race. Based on how I felt, it wasn’t worth the risk.

My only semi-gripe with the course was that one of the final turns on MLK Jr. Drive was noticeably banked. I don’t know that I would have noticed the road’s angle if I was in a car, but when you’re running, you definitely feel the roughly 4 degree horizontal tilt (very scientific visual assessment made on Microsoft Paint).

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You can see the horizon line with the accompanying surface plane based on the van’s tires. My MS Paint skills are pretty awesome.

Not only does your downhill leg take a beating, but you and other competitors slowly slide toward the inside. At this point in the race a good number of the runners are physically tired and less likely to be able to fight the hill and keep a consistent line. It was a pretty unexpected and unfamiliar ¼ mile stretch of road. I found this more irritating than the final hill before the finish line.

The clock time read about 1:50:00-ish when I crossed the finish line, so I knew that I definitely beat my PR. My official chip time was 1:42:41 (7:50/mile average pace). Crushed my RnR USA time of 2:03:16 and met my 20 minute goal with 35 seconds to spare.

For what it’s worth, my Nike+ Sportwatch GPS measured 1:42:51 and a distance of 13.5 miles, giving me an average pace of 7:36. With the exception of the earlier noted GPS flaw, my watch was very accurate. I’d think my true average pace is probably about 7:39-7:42 as I definitely ran more than 13.1 accounting for lateral motion.

Splits (from Nike+ GPS Watch)

1: 7:40
2: 7:31
3: 7:38
4: 7:41
5: 7:44
Accel Gel Taken
6: 7:36
7: 7:26
8: 7:27
9: 7:18
10: 7:22
11: 7:44
12: 8:01
13: 7:42

Although it’s always going to be tough to beat out the RnR USA as my favorite race, Philadelphia gave it a solid run. I loved the flat, fast course (very different from the DC race) and thought the race organizers did a great job in managing the flow of runners in the starting corrals and in the finisher’s “chute” (both areas where DC’s race struggled).

For photos of the event, check out Philadelphia Magazine’s article on the 10 Best Instagrams of the race. I didn’t carry a camera, so I’ve got nothing as far as race-time photos.

Once again RnR did a great job and I fully anticipate running with them in some new cities in the future. I might have to get one of their new RnR TourPass 3 Pack next year because Providence and Virginia Beach are definitely on my radar for 2014.

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