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Monday, June 27, 2011

Race Review: Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon

With a few hours' recollection under my belt, I wanted to give my thoughts about the Seattle event.

We got in Thursday, which gave us a chance to take a bit of a look around the city before we started all the marathon-based events. If you haven't been there (like myself until a few days ago), I highly recommend it. We started out down at the Pike Place Market (that fish-throwing place I'd seen on television), and wandered from there. One of my big selling points for destination marathons is having other things to do once you're there, and Seattle sells well on this point. We walked around some on Thursday, and on Friday morning we hit a Duck Tour which is just about the most fun sight-seeing thing I've ever done. From there, we took the free bus (they're all free in a certain boundary in the city) to the expo.

And what an expo. I had been disappointed in Austin's, as the cavernous hall was only half-filled with booths, most of which were merely local merchants and race reps, but RNR knows how to fill up a room. From the well-organized packet pick-up to the quick (if not a little chaotic) t-shirt and swag bag tables, I had what I needed in no time. I will qualify this by saying that I was there at 1:00, and it was probably much more crowded later, but the organizers had recommended getting there early, and were even offering door prizes if you got there before 3, when everything would be much easier to access. Following their advice, I had a great expo experience. There were games to play, prizes to win, events to watch and samples to be had. They even had a sign-creating station, which I really appreciated on race day.

With three new t-shirts (prizes everywhere, I tell you) and a whole bunch of energy gels, we moved back into the afternoon. Though the swag was a little dull, there are lots of coupons and things in there that I haven't really gone through yet.

After a lay-low evening, we got up very early to head to the shuttle buses. The start line is actually in Tukwila, several miles south of Seattle. While I'm usually not a fan of far apart start and finish lines, I didn't mind this one. For one thing, when we hit the downhills in the first four miles, I knew they didn't necessarily mean that there were uphills to compensate. For another, it gave us a long, beautiful run along the coast of a lake (Lake Washington, maybe?) which made time move much more quickly.

The bus lines were nothing short of bedlam, but by standing in the right place and not being shy about keeping in front of others, I did not have to wait long to get on the school bus that took me to the start. I feel like this could have been better organized, but I imagine it's tough to control lines in cold weather at 5:00 in the morning. The bus ride itself seemed awfully long, but I guess there aren't many direct routes from one place to another in Seattle, so I used the time to visualize my race and calm my heart rate.

The starting line itself was very well organized. There was fruit and water for all who wanted it and more-than-adequate porto-johns, at least when I got there, which was still quite early. People were assigned corrals based on expected finish time, and they were released with enough time between that the starting motion was easy.

For support along the way, I must say, I was truly impressed. There was always a water stop when I needed one, and the combination of bands and cheerleading squads made for a fun mixture of cheering. However, it is not a spectator-friendly course. The out-and-back nature of the marathon course makes it difficult (I am told) to find multiple places to cheer. I imagine the reason that the course was designed the way it was has something to do with avoiding the impossible hills that weave through downtown Seattle, but still, it would have been nice to have heard a familiar voice between miles 15 and 20.

The course itself was a good one, from my limited experience. It was odd running mostly on interstate highways, but the views were wonderful (for much of the race) and running in tunnels, it turns out, is a lot of fun. Many people had mentioned that the course was hilly, but I think I have a different definition. Long, gradual hills do not bother me very much (up to a certain point), so I didn't mind the hills we had to deal with in the first 20 miles. What killed me in Austin were the up-and-down hills in rapid succession. In training, I can run all day, but if I try to do sprint repeats, I'll tire myself out rather quickly. The same holds true, it seems, for hills. Long and steady, no problem, short and brutal, and the wheels come off. Of course, the fact that the uphills just kept coming in the last six miles of the course was what did me in, and if I had realized that beforehand, maybe it would not have been such an issue. I'm beginning to learn that every course has a surprise waiting in the last mile, so I've got to train for that moment. Overall, I liked the run, and if I lived anywhere near Seattle, I'd probably do it again.

My only big gripe about this event was the finish line. I got the medal and my picture taken, no problem, though a few of the volunteers seemed really irritated when a runner would bump into them or anything along those lines, which seems a little dumb to me. They just ran at least 13 miles, so, yeah, they might be tired. There was plenty of water, Cytomax, fruit and snacks, all of which was fine, but I could have used more volunteers with information on what was where. What really upset me were those metallic blankets. By the time I got to the table, I was told that they were out of them. I truly hope that they had another box somewhere and just did not realize it, because if they were out of those blankets after the 102nd marathoner finished, they were grossly unprepared. I will never belittle the accomplishment of running a half-marathon, but I should have gotten a blanket before the halfers that were finishing at the same time. My body was sliding into mini-shock, and I needed something around my shoulders. I was lucky my aunt didn't mind her sweatshirt smelling like me. My suggestion is to move the blankets to immediately after the medals and make sure that at least there are an equal number for full and half marathon runners.

Also, the process for getting the free runner's beer took forever, because it was the same line for those who wanted to buy them. You had to wait in a separate line to get your ID checked, which was absurd, because they checked it at the beer counter as well. The finish line concert, which I had been excited about, was a bit disappointing, but a big part of that was that I was uncomfortable and cold. I waited six songs into Everclear's set to hear something I knew, and when it wasn't happening, we decided to go home.

Overall, I'd give this event a solid B/B+. The course was beautiful, except for the last four miles or so. On-course support was adequate and enthusiastic, even if the finish line was a bit disappointing. The expo was outstanding, especially compared to my limited experience with them. I could have used more parking, but that's an issue with the city, not with the event planners. Truly, this was a great weekend, and I will definitely look into future Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series events.

I just hope the headliner actually plays their popular songs.

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