Monday, April 8, 2013

Race Recap Part I: St. Louis Half Marathon - The Race

Whew! As I've mentioned before, I'm not a terribly experienced racer. The Go! St. Louis Half Marathon was only the fifth race I've ever run. One whole hand of races! Woot! So here is the breakdown:

That's me in the Blue - Photo is courtesy of Chad Fisk

Garmin Course Length: 13.22 miles
Time: 2:32:14
Garmin Time: 2:30:59
Garmin Splits (Averages):

Mile 1 - 11:13                                                Mile 8 - 11:19
Mile 2 - 11:10                                                Mile 9 - 11:51
Mile 3 - 11:15                                                Mile 10 - 12:30
Mile 4 - 10:53                                                Mile 11 - 11:12
Mile 5 - 12:13                                                Mile 12 - 12:54
Mile 6 - 10:56                                                Mile 13 - 11:17
Mile 7 - 10:27                                                Mile 13 - 7:56 (SPRINT!)

My goals were as follows:
FINISH. Just Finish.
Not let my mile splits sink below 12:59 (accomplished, barely)
Run Negative Splits (sort of accomplished)
Goal finishing time: 2:30:00 (close enough to feel good about it).

I've read reviews of races in the past and they really helped me prepare. So I'm going to share what I think you should know if you're considering running Go! St. Louis for the first time. Keep in mind, a lot of my experience is on trails instead of roads, so my expectations for amenities are pretty low.

Pushing for the finish

The Good

Bathroom Opportunities – Good job! There were long lines at the start, as expected. However, I thought that there were plenty of bathroom opportunities on the course, and I say that as someone who had to make an “emergency stop”. Port-A-Pottys didn’t seem over-loaded at the finish either. I was impressed.

Water Stations – Great! They were well staffed, there was tons of Gatorade AND water at every stop and they were frequently spaced (about every 2 miles). They also had volunteers/tables on both sides of the road at most stops, which really cut down on traffic jams. There was only one “gel” station, which I didn’t utilize. I use shotbloks, and I carried my own. However, the wrappers looked like they were probably IMPOSSIBLE to clean up, so mad props to the volunteers at that station!

Finish Festival – Well thought out! I really appreciated the “family reunion area” separated by letter. It made it possible for me to find the Grige afterwards without having to carry my phone and without knowing the area very well. The food/drink available was great (though I didn’t have much of an appetite) and the band on the stage was pretty good as well. We didn’t stay long because I could barely walk.

Excuse me, Grige... Will you please take my shirt? It's HOT!
Holy Hill/Race within a race – Miles 7, 8, and 9 take place on a set of rolling hills. There is separate timing for this. I LOVED this portion of the race. The hills were fun (especially going down them), there were lots of people cheering, and the architecture was fun to see (mostly SLU campus). I think they did a good, creative job making a challenging part of the course fun. I didn’t think it would work when I first read about it, but the race planners know their business. It totally kept me from hitting the wall.

Unrelated, but also good – Parking was a breeze! For 5$, we were less than a block from the finish. I was thoroughly impressed. FYI – I know it’s good behavior to take the metro to races when you can, but I couldn’t get that episode of How I Met Your Mother where Barney runs the NY Marathon without training and then gets on the subway and can’t get out of his seat out of my head. That would TOTALLY have been me, complete with old ladies and pregnant women scowling at me. So let’s amend that rule to apply to races under 15K only. Mmmmkay?
Like this.
The Iffy: I don’t want to say bad here, because generally, it was a really well-done race. However, 
these were the things I didn’t love.

Signage – The signs for each mile were pretty hard to see due to their color. If I hadn’t been running with my Garmin, I would have been confused about where I was in the race. The same was true of the signs for corral line-ups – I had a really hard time figuring out if I was in the right place at the start. Additionally, port-a-potty’s weren’t signed at all, you just had to look for them. This isn’t a huge deal, but it would have been nice to have some clarity on their locations.

The Course – The course was really good, IMHO, until mile 10. Then it got legitimately AWFUL. Mile 10 and 11 ran through a really barren, straight, flat strip on Forest Park Parkway. This portion was out and back for the half marathon, so you were RIGHT NEXT to half marathoners who were past the turn around, on the other side of a very narrow boulevard. Since it was boring, all I did those two miles was stare and the returning runners and think “where the HELL is the turnaround, this is miserable”. After you got through that portion, you run down a smelly underpass next to the highway and back up an exit ramp. Not inspiring, no spectators, and generally unprotected from the (hot) sun. Also, no water stations to break up the ugh. Then, the last 3/4 mile before the finish is ALL UP HILL. It’s horrible, because you can SEE the finish, but your sprinting effort is compromised by the incline. Really frustrating and both mentally and physically challenging. Luckily, my running route at home ends with a 1 mile steady incline, so I was well prepared and didn’t mind too much. However, I can imagine this totally killing it for a first-timer who had trained on a treadmill or flat course.

Post Finish Food – While the variety was great and the line for handing stuff out was efficient, they didn’t give you a bag to put everything in! So I’m standing there with my arms all full of pretzels, ice cream sandwiches, bananas, fruit cups, chips – TONS OF FOOD – and I can’t hold on to it, let alone open something to munch on. Annoying, though perhaps it was intentional to limit the amount of food each runner took. If so – well played guys, well played.

And that's where he found me, pretzel in hand.
Overall, I think this is a good race and probably doesn’t deserve its’ somewhat negative online rep. It’s not a “fast” course by any stretch – it’s hilly, but in a rolling, kind of fun way. I had a good time and don’t regret choosing it as a first half marathon at all. In fact, it’s more than likely that I’ll run it next year as well.

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