2016 Rock Hall Half Marathon
August 14, 2016
Why I Decided to Run This Race
I ran this race last year, and it was a good one! So good in fact, that it helped me chase down the rabbit and set a new PR. I was impressed by the course and the organizers, who earned a coveted Golden Runner award for their efforts!
Needless to say, I was disappointed to learn that a scheduling conflict would keep me from running this year…but…not so fast my friend! Due to a last minute change, my conflict was no longer conflicted (see what I did there?) and just like that, my schedule was free to run this race!
Getting There/the Lead-up to the Race
Believe it or not, Candace and I decided to run this race the Monday before (everyone enters half marathons on 6 days notice, right? Its totally not crazy, right?). Despite running the Rock N Roll Chicago Half Marathon in July, my training was on the struggle bus this summer, the heat and humidity dampening my miles. We took on the 5k a day challenge for this month, so we are still in the running groove, but longer runs have been hard to come by, and this race would be the perfect opportunity to log a long run to help train for the Disneyland Half Marathon, and, dare I say, maybe even gun for a new PR?
The Race Expo
This race does not have an expo, instead bib distribution is done in a quick, easy, and completely runner-friendly manner. You have 3 options for the Sunday morning race: Friday pickup is at Second Sole (a fun local running store), Saturday is inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame itself, and race morning pickup is right in front of the Hall of Fame. Like I said, they could not make this any easier for runners.
OK, I am way too excited to have a race shirt that looks nothing like any of the other many race shirts I have. I definitely approved of the blue color of the Brooks tech shirts and the logo exclaiming “Let’s Rock” works for me. Candace is not the biggest fan of the waffle-type tech shirts, which is a personal preference. I will say that we found both the men’s and women’s cuts to be a little off in the sizing, but I still like the shirt. Each runner also received a buy-1-get-1-free coupon for Chipotle. I will give you all a moment to fantasize about tasty burritos. OK, are we good now?
The big winner in the swag department is every runner gets a free ticket to tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Um, yes please! forgive me for being a Cleveland homer, but this museum really does…wait for it…rock! Seriously though, this makes for a great swag pack.
It was going to be hot one! I selected my Team Casual Runner singlet, my Sweatvac running hat, Spibelt, iPhone 5S, Brooks headphones, Head running shorts, Adidas Climalite Compression Shorts, Steigen running socks, and New Balance XC700v3 Spikeless running shoes. I was happy with my selection as the gear all worked out well for the race day conditions.
OK, let me get personal for a moment. I came very close to DNS’ing this race (DNS = Did not Start). I ended up being up half the night, sick as a dog. I do not know what came over me, but it was rough. I then woke up about 45 minutes before my alarm to let the dogs out for a potty break, and could not fall back asleep. On race morning the weather forcast looked like it was going to be bad (as in rain showers), and Candace was super supportive, even giving me an out if I wanted to skip. But, I am bullheaded, and, having never DNS’d a race, I was not going to start now. Honestly, a big part of my decision not to DNS was I knew how good of an event organizers put on in their first year, and I really wanted to run this race again.
We drove to downtown Cleveland, and parking was a breeze. We picked up our bibs and swag and then went to the car to chill, but somehow all of the nasty weather passed by and race conditions were relatively dry.
Organizers moved the race start from last year, so we started directly in front of the Hall of Fame instead of next to it. The only issue I saw was that the line for the bathrooms was insanely long. Several announcements were made to encourage those running the 5k (which started later) to let the half marathoners go first, but, from what we could tell, most of the line was comprised of half marathon runners. I decided I had to use the bathroom, even if it meant starting the race late, which it did. Many other runners made the same decision.
Along the Course
This race has 4 distinct sections: Downtown, Carnegie/The Flat, Cultural Gardens/The Drop, and Lakeshore/Finish. This makes my course description so much easier!
As I said, we missed the official start because of the long bathroom lines. Candace was ready to cross the starting line before I was, but I had to get my music started. The race director recognized me and jokingly told me to get moving or he would add 10 minutes to my finish time. Turns out the joke was on him…as I would add more than 10 minutes to my own time! But more on that later.
Starting from the Hall of Fame we started out heading west past First Energy Stadium (Home of my Cleveland Browns – this could be our year!). We then headed south up a small hill into downtown, which makes for an enjoyable section of the course. We passed by City Hall and Cleveland Cavaliers and NBA Championship banners before hitting mile 1 (this WAS our year!).
I really enjoyed the downtown section of the course. The one exception was running on a street that was under construction. This is one of the unfortunate realities of planning a race: you get your course approved, permits issued, and then they start construction on your streets. For the most part, it was fine as the course was not at all congested for me during this stretch. However…I did pass a couple of strollers. I am on record as being very weary of people running with strollers in races, but I saw something I had never seen before: a man running with a TRIPLE stroller. I could not believe it. For the most part he tried to keep to the side, but I did see a couple of passes that were too close for my comfort. Just be careful out there folks.
Before the 5k mark we turned left on to Carnegie, which is a 3+ mile straight and flat stretch of the course. This is the least exciting section of the course, but it is a necessary transition to get us to the 3rd and 4th sections. There really isn’t much to see, so you just focus on keeping moving and finding your pacing. Once you hit the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus, things start to pick up a little bit, but for me, the humidity did as well, and I was starting to feel it in my legs.
Given the weather conditions I made a point to stop at every water station. At one I took the offered cup of “water” and poured it over my head…only to discover that it was blue sports drink. Oops! It amused my fellow runners, fortunately I was so sweaty it really didn’t matter from a stickiness perspective, but the coolness was welcome relief. No matter, time to press onward!
A quick note: I thought that the various police agencies did a fabulous drop with traffic control, and I was appreciative of their efforts. There were 2 incidents however where cars ignored police instructions to stop and drove right through intersections as I was about to cross. Instinctively I yelled at the cars, both of whom heard me. One driver pretended to be embarrassed, the other clearly did not care and expressed his indifference with a certain universal gesture. After I yelled at the second car, a runner near me exclaimed “that was awesome!” It was good to see someone appreciated my driver education efforts. But this is a good reminder: even though you are running on a closed course and the police are doing their very best, you cannot totally eliminate stupid. So, be on the lookout for cars at all times and be safe out there.
Cultural Gardens/The Drop
Once past the Cleveland Clinic, it is time for the real fun to begin. Just past the Clinic and the 6 mile mark the course turns left and begins a 4 mile gradual downhill/drop section that is THE highlight of this course. I absolutely love this section and, of all of the races I have run, it is definitely one of my favorites. The course winds down gorgeous, heavily wooded streets, past Case Western Reserve University, museums, and the Cultural Gardens, a real jewel in the City of Cleveland.
If you are going for a PR, this is where you can really add some cushion to your time. Unfortunately, while I was in striking distance of a PR entering this section, the humidity proved too much and my legs started to cramp up on me. Rather than adding to my pace, I found my pacing slow down. I was very disappointed, but, sometimes, you just have to accept that its not your day. As any chance of a PR slipped away, I refocused and enjoyed my race.
Darn it…drops really never do last long enough! Oh well, onto section 4, which takes you along the shores of Lake Erie heading due west back into Downtown. Unfortunately, my legs started to fail me on this flat section. The cramping got worse. I could not put enough fluids in me to make a difference, so I backed off the running and worked in several long walk intervals and numerous stops to stretch my legs.
I witnessed something simultaneously scary and wonderful. A little ways before the mile 10 marker I saw a runner go down hard. She was obviously in distress, but I was too far away to help her. In the time it took me to run to wear she fell, several runners had already stopped to lend assistance: protecting her head, elevating her legs, and offering her drinks from their bottles. I had already pulled my phone out of my Spibelt and had turned it off of airplane mode by the time I arrived, but was told that 2 runners were already calling 911. Assured that they had everything under control, I pressed on, but I could not help be in awe by how selfless and caring runners are. Truly an inspirational moment.
About .2 miles later I approached a water station and an aid station, and let them know about the distressed runner. The volunteers immediately jumped into action. A quick note to the race organizers and Lake Health (who sponsored the aid tents): you should be proud of your people and the way they jumped to lend assistance. As a runner, it is encouraging to know we are in good hands. Thank you!
OK, I still had to finish this darn race! I made my way past the marinas and the airport, where my legs really started to cramp up. I added a few more stops to stretch, but I was done walking, I was going to finish this one. I could see the city skyline slowly getting closer as I finally made my way past the airport. Side note: while I did not notice any traffic problems on this stretch, Candace told me that when she was running along it, several cars made their way along the same side of the road as the runners. So, at least on this stretch, traffic control could have been better. Again, runners need to pay attention, even on closed courses.
Just past the airport I knew I was almost home free. I saw the crowds starting to grow for the first time since we began and they were cheering us along…especially the enthusiastic team from Black Girls Run…man they were impressive in their full-throated encouragement! I crested the small hill and then it was a a short .1 to the finish among the cheering crowds in front of the Hall of Fame. There was no PR on this day, but there was no DNS either. I succeeded and conquered my goal despite less than ideal conditions. Another great half marathon in the books!
Yup, this one is a good one! Is there any question why I’m such a fan of this event? Just check out this guitar medal…and the pic is a slider! Seriously, they are doing things right with this event and I will be happy to add this one to my bling rack.
The Post-Race Experience
Other race directors really should take note of how the Rock Hall Half delivers with regard to post-race treats, they hit these out of the park. When I crossed the finish line I was greeted with an ice cold chocolate milk and then an ice cream sandwich! On a hot race day, it does not get any better than this. They also had delicious pizza. I could tell you about the healthy options they had, but lets be honest: chocolate + ice cream sandwiches + pizza is really all anyone cares about! Well done indeed.
Having set out hoping for a PR and not coming close to getting it, I ran out of music on my playlist, so I had to restart it during the last 5k. But, this being the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Half Marathon, I filled my playlist with lots of modern rock: Avicii (Wake Me Up), Sheppard (Geronimo), and Walk the Moon (Shut Up and Dance With Me), and even some throwbacks such as Hooked on Feeling by Blue Swede.
Looking Back Now
In just its second year, this is a very good runner-focused race event with tremendous opportunity for further growth. Like all things in life, there are some areas for improvement, and I offer these three observations by way of suggestion (more than criticism) as a way of making this event even better for years to come. And, to be honest, these can probably be said about many races around the country.
First, the pre-and post race activities are fun, which only highlights that the race could use some on-course entertainment. As a newer race, there was not a lot of on-course support, and some entertainment, especially in the second and fourth sections, would go a long way. Second, while I thought that the volunteers did a very good job hustling to keep the water stations well-stocked, an August race really could use more stations as the heat and humidity demands more frequent hydration, especially for those runners further back in the pack who have longer intervals between hydration stops. Third, there were not enough bathroom opportunities on the course, which can make for…shall we say?…and uncomfortable race experience. Candace told me that she went into one port a potty in section 3 that turned out to be a public one (not one put there by the race), and it was so disgusting it nearly made her sick. Placing more bathrooms along the course is always welcome.
So there you have it. Another great race event that leaves me looking forward to hopefully running this one again!
Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!
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Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!