In only its second year, the Rock ‘n Roll Raleigh Marathon and Half Marathon has the reputation for being a tough and hilly course. Additionally, many Raleigh-ites haven’t been very excited for Competitor’s Rock ‘n Roll series to come to their city. Since Mike and I moved here, we’ve noticed that most area races are focused on raising money for local charities. Apparently, Rock ‘n Roll took over a popular local half marathon where many of the proceeds went to a charity; there’s now a Rock ‘n Rebellion half marathon fun run that happens the day before the RNR race.
I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed my previous RNR races in Philadelphia and DC. Competitor knows what they are doing and puts on great and professional races. The races are a bit of a production but I do kind of like that once in awhile. A major downside is how expensive they’ve become. Mike and I registered during a kick-off event several months ago for the “discounted” price of $95 each (side note: Competitor dropped the price to $50 the past couple of weeks! Not sure that was the best marketing move since it seems to have upset those who signed up early). Rock ‘n Roll Raleigh has the fewest half and full marathon finishers of any RNR series race. There were about 6,000 half finishers; the next closest is Denver with 8,000. It seemed so small to us since we were used to DC’s 15,000+ half marathoners. Competitor has a three year contract with Raleigh so will definitely be back next year but I’d doubt they’d return for a fourth.
Matt came down from DC to run the half marathon with us so we all went to the expo together on Saturday afternoon. With the expo held at the downtown convention center, we had no trouble finding street parking close-by. We could hear live music as we approached and were surprised to see a stage with a band, beer for sale and people hanging out, relaxing in the open space in front of the convention center. In DC and Philly, the scene in front of the expo is usually rushed and hectic. I loved this chill, laid-back atmosphere with live music, food and drinks.
I also love that Competitor dressed up the statue of Sir Walter Raleigh – cute touch!
The expo was festive and well organized, just what you’d expect from a Competitor race.
The actual packet pick-up area seemed too spread out for the numbers that Raleigh was bringing in. There were no lines, actually no other people picking up their packets when we were. It literally took us 30 seconds to get our bibs and t-shirts. I think that area could have made a bit smaller to allow the actually expo booth area to be more spread out. It felt a bit unnecessarily cramped. It was definitely a smaller expo than DC and Philly, but still had the large Brooks set-up with cool branded Raleigh gear, CEP booth, Bondi bands, etc. I did miss the free samples of Lara bars and nuun that we’ve had at other expos. Randomly, there were free samples of scrambled eggs and powdered peanut butter. Even though the expo felt tight, it wasn’t crowded like many other expos we’d been to, so it was a much more pleasant, less stressful experience.
– recognizing representatives from Salming, On, Altra and Skechers booths who had been at Runologie Demo Days
– checking out all the RNR medals, including the ridiculously giant medals for completing multiple RNR races in a year
– cool Raleigh branded Brooks gear
– cute race shirt with the squirrel and the green color!
On Saturday morning, I was up at 5:30 am to drive to Durham and volunteer for the Girls on the Run of the Triangle 5K. I was helping out with the Alumni Table and also registered to run as a running buddy. I don’t think I’ve ever run the day before a race but I took it pretty easy; I was obviously not going for any time – didn’t wear my watch – and actually think it was good to get a good shake-out run in. Although running on those hills made me a little nervous for the hilly half marathon the next day! I ate 1.5 bagels and a Picky bar over the course of the morning and drank a lot of nuun.
When Matt arrived from DC, we stopped at Guasaca for some arepas for lunch. I was so hungry I forgot to take a photo! I avoided anything that could bother my stomach (beans, slaw) and ate a lot of their delicious chips (good to consume salt the day before a race). After the expo, we stopped for a beer at Lonerider Brewery. Probably not the best pre-race beverage, but Matt was in town so how could we not go to a brewery?!
For dinner, we had the usual grilled chicken and pasta while watching Providence College become hockey champions!
The Rock ‘n Roll Raleigh is an early race! We were encouraged to park in one of the area garages by 5:30 am for a 7 am race! We all woke up at 4:30 am and left around 5:15. Since so many streets around the city were closed, we were stuck in race traffic for about 15 minutes (not bad!) and parked in the Red Hat parking garage, right by the start line. We hung out in the car for awhile. I ate half a bagel at 4:45 am and then a Picky Bar at 6 am and had my usual cup of coffee.
We headed down at 6:30 to use a bathroom before race start. Even at that time, the lines were so short for the portapotties -amazing! And they were still fully stocked with toilet paper. Perk for smaller race that’s set up like it’s a big race! It was WINDY and pretty chilly despite the high of 76 that day. Mike and I debated running back to the car for our arm sleeves. Good thing we didn’t because as soon as the wind died down and the sun rose, it got warm quickly! To stay warm in the interim, we, along with some other runners, waited in Red Hat’s lobby. Thanks, Red Hat!! We also got some cool pictures by the paintings in the lobby. Also, I wish RNR would make the race bibs slightly smaller. They are gigantic!
We were all in Corral 2 and had no problem getting to the start line and into our corral. We even saw some people we knew! There was a moment of silence for the two people who passed away during last year’s race (due to heat and heart conditions) and then we were off, while a drone photographed us from above.
My watch suddenly turned off as I crossed the start line but quickly synced again. At the finish, my watch said my total distance was 13.09 so I didn’t miss too much. We started off on a nice wide downtown road with no runner congestion issues. We ran south, turned around the Convention Center and then headed back north. It was a funny route – we’d run away from the city and then turn back and run toward the city again, especially at the beginning of the course.
Although I didn’t enter this race with any expectations of hitting a PR (personal record), I still wanted to do my best. I was disappointed to see that my first mile pace was close to 8:00, when I wanted to stay closer to 7:30. I gave myself a range to stay within (7:30-8:00), but since the first mile was pretty flat, I thought I should be faster. I picked up the pace. I lost Mike and Matt around mile 2-3 as the road was a bit more narrow and I really focused on my pacing. Even though Mike and I hadn’t run this race before, I found it helpful to be familiar enough with Raleigh and the roads and terrain. I had an idea of what to expect.
The rolling hills began around mile 4 and I recognized the Mordecai/Oakwood area from the St. Paddy’s Day Run Green 8K. I was mentally prepared for the hills and tried to enjoy the downhills and not burn out on the uphills. I knew there was much more to come. It was pretty much a steep uphill from mile 5-6. Even though it was neighborhoody, there was a good amount of crowd support. The few bands that there were, were pretty good! There was a great group of drummers at the bottom of the downhill after the famous Krispy Kreme. I enjoyed the downhill, knowing that the big, seemingly never-ending uphill was to come. It began at 6.5 and went until around 8.
Since most of the race so far had been going away from the sun rising or in shaded areas, I hadn’t needed my Oakley sunglasses. As I went to put them on, on the uphill in Cameron Village (where there were a ton of spectators), my nose-pad flew off! I caught it and tried to fix it as I maintained my pace uphill. I wanted to keep the 1:40 pace group in my sight, right ahead of me. My hands were too sweaty to get the nosepad to latch on. I’d had this problem over the past few months but I’d usually been able to get it back on pretty easily. Not this time. I debated whether or not I should just carry them and deal with the sun in my eyes for the last 4-ish miles (we were about to start running right into the sun) or stop and get the nose pad on. I stopped. REGRETTING that now. I thought once I stopped, I’d get the nose pad on quickly. Nope, I struggled and a very nice spectator helped me secure it. I wasn’t taking my sunglasses off until the finish! However, I had a giant fingerprint in the middle of the left lens which was pretty annoying for the rest of the race. I had stopped my watch, not thinking, so I’m not sure how much time I lost.
I tried to speed up to make up for lost time. It was hard to get going again, especially since I’d stopped halfway up the hill. Time for a gel! I don’t know if I was just out of practice or what but I couldn’t get my GU open! I struggled and finally used my teeth (hate doing that). I took my Caramel Macchiato GU around mile 8.5 as we turned onto Hillsborough Street. I felt close to the finish, running back towards downtown. Raleigh’s a very clean city and so was the course. I felt bad throwing my gel wrapper along the side of the course so held onto it until a water stop, something I don’t think I’ve done before during a race. Matt and Mike said the same thing.
There was a much appreciated downhill from about mile 9-10 around NC State University. Mike surprised me at mile 9.5, catching up with me! I actually wasn’t that surprised because he’s been working on negative splits (going faster the second half) and has been running on a pretty regular basis. Plus, he’s a strong runner on hills. It was great to see him and we ran together for a couple of miles until he flew up the final hill. We saw Susan from Fortnight’s Blue Run Club at mile 10; she cheered us on, reminding us we had just a 5K left!
As we turned off Western Blvd at 10.5-ish, there was an inflatable archway we could run through to get misted with water. Just what I needed at just the right time, before the final push up the hills. There was a moving memorial to fallen soldiers in Dorothea Dix park with flags, photos of soldiers and volunteers lining the way.
The downhill at mile 11.5 was actually not enjoyable. It was very steep and tough on my quads! Volunteers manned the lively water stop at the bottom, handing on leis and cheering on runners. The final uphill was the hardest. Mike and I had run on part of it before, so it wasn’t all new. The beginning was pretty steep. I saw some runners pitch in to help volunteers pushing wheelchairs get up the hill! You are greeted with awesome views of Raleigh at Boylston Bridge, at the top of the hill, to make it sort of worth it. And then there’s the turn onto West Morgan Street and the finish feels SO close!
With under a mile left, I knew I had the energy to really push myself until the end. The road was flat and wide and spectators were getting more dense the closer we got to the finish. As I turned onto Fayetteville where the finish was, spectators crammed the final stretch. It was an awesome finish and the crowd support really helped me push hard until the end! I saw from a distance that the finish clock read 1:40. I knew if I gave it all I had, I could get close to 1:40 and would definitely PR! 1:40:38!! Mike came in at exactly 1:40:00! Our hill training and general training has really paid off. Raleigh’s hills have helped us become stronger runners. Matt, not used to the hills, was actually not too far behind us! Impressive for not having trained on hills and not knowing the course!
At other RNR races, I’ve been rushed through the finish chute since it’s usually so packed and congested with runners. This was much more low-key. We hung out in the finish chute for about 10 minutes (we weren’t in the way though), catching up with other runners we knew from run clubs in the area. The food spread wasn’t too impressive but it was enough. I’m always happy to get pretzels and was impressed we had four types of Snyder’s to choose from. There were bananas, Gatorade, water and chocolate milk. Usually I’m excited for chocolate milk post-running/races, but this was warm – ugh. I took Immodium right away and had zero stomach issues the whole day! I’m so glad to have found a solution to my running + IBS problems.
Also, Jimmy John’s was handing out free mini turkey sandwiches! Delicious!
We were getting chilly, so went back to the car to grab jackets before heading over to Red Hat Amphitheater for the Smashmouth post-race concert. What a cool venue! Unfortunately, the beer garden was just outside the amphitheater and was also set up on a hill (AH). But we got big Michelob Ultras, which tastes so delicious at 10 am after a run. We finished just in time to get seats in the amphitheater before the show. Smashmouth was…as you’d probably expect. It was cool to hear I’m a Believer and All Star (last two songs); we could get pretty close to the stage too (wasn’t a huge crowd).
Food time! Since it was about noon (restaurants can’t serve alcohol before noon), we headed over to Flying Saucer for beers and snacks. We weren’t hungry for a big meal so split wings and chili cheese fries.