Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rock 'N Roll Half Marathon Race Report

This morning I ran the Rock 'N Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon as a tune up for the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon in four weeks. I also ran this race in 2005, 2006, and 2008. Each time, I bonked because of the heat. The 2005 race was my first half marathon, so I was happy just to have finished. To give some perspective on my degree of suffering through these hot races, I have never broken 2:00 at this race, and yet my PR is a 1:41.

Thus, I was scared of this race. The forecast seemed like it could be as bad as 2008 and I was worried. I knew that when I registered for the race that it wasn't going to be anywhere close to my PR, but my coach said that running a half four weeks before a full marathon is good for practicing race strategy, and gauging your fitness. I can't really gauge my fitness from today's race, but I did "rehearse" my race day routine and execution of negative splits.

Race Goals & Strategy
I didn't really have a time goal for this race, more like a prediction. My plan was to go out at a pace of around 8:10 and gradually speed up if I could. I think that if I was dead-set on a particular goal I would have been more motivated to push, so in the future, I will try to actually aim for something. It's just that hot races, especially long ones, are such unknowns to me. So much can go wrong that probably won't go wrong in cooler temperatures.

My mom was tracking me, so I gave her a "guide" on how to interpret my results:

  • 1:43 or faster-- Awesome race
  • 1:44-1:46-- Good race
  • 1:47-1:48-- Okay race
  • 1:49-1:51-- Bad race
  • 1:52 or slower-- Horrible race

Realistically, I thought I'd be somewhere around 1:45-1:46.

Greg and I drove down on Saturday and got to the expo at around 10:30. The Brooks booth was amazing. As a marketer myself, I was truly in awe of the coolness factor of their booth. It must have cost them a small fortune, but it was obviously very much appreciated by the runners.

Part of the Brooks "Booth" at the Expo
Brooks had treadmills set up with video cameras for free gait analyses. I figured "what the heck" might as well get yet another opinion. I'd really like to be more of an efficient runner and run safely in a lighter shoe, so I wanted to see what they had to say. Well, they agreed with my previous video analysis completely. The right foot would be okay in a neutral shoe, but I definitely need the stability on the left. They recommended I stick with the Adrenaline, as I have been doing for over six years, and that I could also try the Ravenna.

I ended up buying both the Adrenaline and the Ravenna because they were 10% off and it would gain me access to the Brooks VIP Porta Potty with running water and supposedly shorter lines. The Rock 'N Roll races are notorious for not having enough porta potties and on numerous occasions I've not been able to use one pre-race because the wait is 30+ minutes.

Race Morning
Greg (who wasn't running the race in objection to the high cost of the entry fee) and I stayed at a hotel about 12 miles away from the start line. My college roommate has a condo just half a mile from the start line so we were able to borrow her parking permit and park in her spot. There was no way I was dealing with the shuttles like I did in 2006 when I was late to the start line. (Yes, this race holds a lot of bad memories for me!)

Waiting in Corral 3
I ate about 2/3 of a bagel with peanut butter and drank a lot of Pedialyte. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I usually don't eat anything except for a bagel on race morning, but I am trying to add peanut butter to get more calories in. We got to the race about 30 minutes before the start time and headed for the VIP Porta Potty area. Lo and behold. . . the line for that was just as long (if not longer) than the lines for the regular porta potties. I was so frustrated. I waited and waited until I realized it wasn't going to happen so I headed for my corral desperately needing to still use the bathroom.

I looked up at the sky and realized the sky was overcast. What a pleasant surprise! The forecast was for mostly sunny, which can be detrimental to me. The temperature was about 70 degrees and it was very humid.

Miles 1-3
I started out at what felt like a very easy pace. I was aiming for 8:10, and I achieved that for the most part. The first mile was downhill so it was faster. After the first mile, I started looking around for porta potties. Or even anywhere I could duck and hide. I really had to go to the bathroom and it was very uncomfortable for me. I couldn't focus on the race at all. My only goal was to find a place to go to the bathroom. Finally, during mile 3, I found a lone porta potty, which thankfully was unoccupied, and quickly did my business. I was back out on the course within a minute. I didn't want to speed up too much after that and get myself going too fast, but I did want to compensate somewhat. I think I struck a decent balance.

Mile 1: 8:04
Mile 2: 8:09
Mile 3: 8:25 (porta potty)

Miles 4 -7
I hit the 5K mark at 25:53, which I knew was on the slower side, but I couldn't help the fact that I needed to  make that bathroom stop. These miles were relatively uneventful. My goal was to stay between 8:00 and 8:10. Everything was feeling pretty easy and I was staying relaxed. I had my first honey at mile 3.5 and it went down well. It was very humid and I was sweating a lot, but I was extremely grateful for the overcast sky and I even put my sunglasses on top of my head because I didn't need them.

Mile 4: 8:12
Mile 5: 8:05
Mile 6: 8:02
Mile 7: 8:03

Miles 8-10
I had been carrying a bottle of G2 the whole time, but at mile 8 I ditched it-- still 1/3 full. I felt plenty hydrated and was tired of carrying it. My next honey came at mile 8.5 and that went down easy. This is my least favorite part of the course. It's just running around a military camp and it's boring and seems to go on forever. At one point, you can see runners about half a mile ahead of you and they seem so far away and it's mentally tough.

During this portion of the race, I stayed strong by remembered how horrible I felt in 2008 and that I was much stronger now. I was thankful that I wasn't bonking and everything felt pretty good. Things were getting a little harder for me at this point, but I didn't really start to feel like it was race effort until mile 10.

Mile 8: 8:02
Mile 9: 8:06
Mile 10: 8:02

Miles 11- Finish
I am afraid of this race!
I was happy that I was consistently in the low 8's and things finally started to feel tough. In hindsight, I probably could have started to push harder earlier, but I was so afraid of bonking. I could have probably picked up the pace at mile 11, but the finish line still seemed so far, so I just stayed steady and played it conservatively.

During the 12th mile there was a bridge with a notable hill. I remembered all the CAR hill workouts and could hear George's voice telling me to use my arms and keep of my form. I only slowed slightly on the hill and then I flew down it. Unfortunately the race course was still crowded, so I wasn't able to "fly down" as fast as I would have liked. I saw Greg at mile marker 12 and he got everyone around him (including the cheerleaders) to cheer for me.

The last mile was when I decided to give it my all. I pushed hard and focused on getting to the finish. I ran through some misting stations on the boardwalk, which made my sunscreen get in my eyes. I had trouble seeing at this point, but I just pressed on. I knew where the finish line was so I looked straight ahead and pushed really hard. Now was the time to make up for that porta potty stop!

Mile 11: 8:02
Mile 12: 8:05
Mile 13: 7:44
0.23: 1:37 (a 7:00 pace)

The Finish

I can't believe I held a 7:00 pace for nearly a quarter of a mile at the end of a hot half marathon! I felt awesome. Although, of course it makes me think I left a lot on the course and could have run the race faster. But it's always better to finish fast and strong than to bonk. And bonking in the heat was my biggest fear. Yay for playing it safe in the heat!

Shortly after crossing the finish line, the editor of Washington Running Report started interviewing me. She saw my Capital Area Runners top and immediately knew I was on George's team. She asked me a bunch of questions, and I wasn't all that coherent, so I hope I answered them well. She also took my photo, so I think I should be in the print magazine or the online site. I'll post a link to this blog post if  the article shows up online.

Greg and I reconnected and found a shaded area to relax in. The sun did make an appearance during the last mile, but thankfully no sooner.

Final Thoughts
I'm very pleased with how this race turned out. It wasn't my "A" race-- rather a tune up. I do think I could have run it a little bit faster and pushed harder earlier, but I'm glad I didn't kill myself because I still want to put in a solid week of training next week. My time is what it is. Nothing spectacular, but I put out a solid effort and executed my strategy as planned.

My official finish time was 1:46:44 with an 8:09 average pace. My Garmin clocked 13.23 miles at an average pace of 8:04.

I placed 51 out of 1097  in my division (top 4.6%)
I placed 230 out of 6385 women (top 3.6 %)

I have another tune up race in just two weeks-- and 8K. If the weather isn't too crazy I'll be going for a PR (sub 36:45) and ideally run a 7:15 pace.

Just four weeks until Milwaukee Lakefront!


  1. Nice job--get that work in the next 2 weeks!

  2. Congratulations on the race! I've done the Seattle R 'n' R twice and both times I've had VIP port a potty passes, and never used them yet. The first year I was late due to traffic, and had to stop to go around mile 2. This year the line for the VIP potties was LONG, so I went around to the high number corrals and found short lines there. If I do it next year, I don't think I'll bother with the VIP potties!

  3. Congratulations, you had a really nice negative split! Great confidence boost going into the marathon!

  4. Good job! Looks like a 3:45 is possible in 4 weeks.

  5. Thanks everyone!

    Anonymous- Yes, if it's 70 and humid in 4 weeks in Milwaukee I would probably run about a 3:45.

  6. Congratulations!! You are going to rock the Mikwaukee Marathon.

    By the way, love your blue dress from the photo.

  7. Congratulations! It sounds like you ran it SO smart!

  8. Such a great race! You did exactly what you needed to do and totally adjusted the way you should have for the heat. Congrats!

  9. Great job! I ran this race too and am getting ready to write up my race report. I thought the Brooks booth was amazing at the expo too! And I totally agree about camp Pendelton being boring. Thank goodness we had good cloud cover for much of the race! Good luck on the final weeks of your training!

  10. Congrats on the great, smart race! I'm glad you were able to avoid all of the problems of previous years!

  11. Article:

  12. Great half marathon! I'd say you rocked it out! You look amazing and strong in the race photos too! Congratulations!