Mr. R&R and I opted to pick up our race packets on Thursday night in hopes of avoiding huge crowds and long waits. We easily found parking (in an area of the city with a notoriously bad parking situation) and were directed to the expo by a friendly, well placed volunteer. The expo was large, full of interesting vendors, and very well organized. It's probably one of the better race expos I've ever been to. We stopped off on the way home for dinner, and I did something I rarely do in the days leading up to a race - I had some wine. Let me tell you, it was the best my throat and head have felt in a while!
Friday morning brought a new challenge: a mandatory company breakfast. I was not happy about that. I'm a complete nut about controlling everything I eat the day before a race to minimize the risk of food poisoning or stomach problems during the race. It's not like I could exactly skip it, so I spent most of the day feeling like I'd eaten a vat of grease. After work I headed home, laid out all my race stuff, ate dinner, checked the weather obsessively, and called it a night by about 10pm.
4:30am came very quickly - especially since a coughing fit woke me up around 2:30 and it took an hour to get back to sleep. Once the alarm went off and I was up for good, it was the usual routine: shower, get dressed, stuff a baggie of cough drops in the back pocket of my top, grab small amount of coffee and a Clif bar to consume in the car, and get going.
We arrived at the starting village about 40 minutes before the gun went off which left us just enough time to drop our gear at bag and tag, stretch a little, and work our way into the starting corrals. I was in Corral J based on the estimated finishing time I submitted at registration and Mr. R&R was in Corral I, so we confirmed our post-race meeting spot, wished each other luck, and went our separate ways. The race was huge and the corrals were really crowded. I did my best to tune out everything around me and try to get in a racing mind frame even though I wasn't really sure how it was going to go. I had revised my goals from: run a PR to a few more manageable goals: a) finish the race b) don't wind up in the med tent and c) do not let the 2:15 pace group get in front of me. I even amused myself by assigning the c-goal the hashtag: #YouHadOneJob. At 7 A.M. sharp the gun went off and the crowd began to move forward. It took about 4 minutes for my corral to reach the starting line and as soon as my foot hit the chip mat, I hit start on my Garmin and started running. The first 2 miles were a little uncomfortable since they were punctuated by coughing fits, but somewhere just after the Mile 2 water station, something incredible happened: all the congestion in my head and chest cleared and the coughing died down a lot!
Right around that point is where we began the climb onto the race's big landmark: The Hoan Bridge. And I definitely took it to the bridge. I slowed a little, but never stopped running during the long climb to the top. The view from the top was magnificent. The sun was sparkling on Lake Michigan, there was a light breeze (which really helped dispel the reek of the sewage treatment plant under the bridge!), and I was feeling really good as I knocked back a GU at the water station and started back down the other side of the bridge. I ran down the bridge and onto Lincoln Memorial Drive, riding a downhill and GU Roctane high through Miles 6 & 7 - two of my fastest miles of the race!. Even the climb up Lafayette Hill, which I've never voluntarily run up before, wasn't too bad. I still prefer running down it, but there was a small sense of satisfaction knowing that I didn't walk a single step of that hill.
At Mile 10, the Roctane began to wear off again and the usual aches and pains of double digits started. My legs were tired, my knees were starting to ache, and I was getting hot spots on both of my feet. The bullshit voice started making lots of noise, begging me to walk for a while, but I ignored it. I was moving pretty slowly, but I was still running. At about Mile 11 I could hear the 2:15 pace group coming up behind me. I muttered something like "Oh, hell no!" as I knocked back a regular GU and reminded myself: #YouHadOneJob. I decided right then that there was no way in hell that I was letting them get in front of me. The pretty views from Lakeshore State Park were lost on me as I went way down deep inside myself as I pushed through the final miles. We exited Lakeshore State Park onto a service road behind the Marcus Amphitheater and I could hear the finish line. That lit a fire under me and I took the final turn and began sprinting to the finish line. I crossed the finish line in 2:14:03. Not bad for a sick girl...and the course measured .13 miles long by my Garmin!
I collected my medal, a bottle of water, and a banana before collapsing in a coughing heap on the grass. Once I managed to pull a very sticky cough drop out of my pocket, I was back on my aching feet and went in search of Mr. R&R who finished in a fantastic 1:59:15. We collected our gear from bag and tag, checked in to see how Yada Yada and Texas had fared, and began the painful, but very much worth it, creep back to our car.
All in all, this was a fantastic race. The course was truly representative of the city since it wound through so many neighborhoods (Third Ward, Fifth Ward, Bayview, Eastside) and it was very well staffed with volunteers. The water stations were spaced about every 1.5-2 miles, which was just about perfect and they were long, which went a long way in preventing traffic jams as long as you didn't try to hit the very first table. There were also lots of enthusiastic spectators lining most of the course - including a guy who had his golden retriever standing on its back legs high-fiving runners as they came by. Best. Race. Spectator. Ever. Rock 'n Sole was also a very big race. There were almost 3600 runners in the half marathon and another almost 2000 in the quarter marathon. There was also a 5k with nearly 2000 participants that started about half an hour after the half and quarter marathons. The first 5 miles were pretty congested as almost 6000 people poured through old, narrow streets and onto the Hoan Bridge. Once the half marathon and quarter marathon split from each other it loosened up a lot and although there were always other runners nearby, I didn't feel like I was dodging around people like I had for the opening miles. The post race food options left a little to be desired (especially considering the hefty price tag on this race) and the location of bag and tag was a little ambiguous, but the only major change I would make would be to start the quarter marathon after the half marathon to ease some of the congestion. Overall, I would definitely run this race again - and I'm already seriously considering making room for it in my 2015 schedule!