Race Recap: Seattle Rock and Roll Half Marathon

On Sunday, June 9, I gathered with a crowd of about 12,000 people at the foot of the Seattle Space Needle for what would be one of the more challenging half marathons I’ve had the pleasure(?) of running. I decided to run the Seattle Rock and Roll Half Marathon at nearly the last minute, missing the online registration deadline and having to sign up at the race expo. I wanted to run this race because I knew it was hilly and would be some good practice for the Hood to Coast relay, which I’m running in a couple of months.

On race day morning, I go through my normal routine of dropping of my bag (which was a pretty good hike from the start line), using the port-a-potties, and warming up before heading to my start corral. The starting area was incredibly chaotic, with apparently nobody directing foot traffic or making sure people were getting into their assigned corrals. I managed to find what appeared to be my assigned corral, but I saw a ton of bibs in there for later corrals. After the standard shuffle-shuffle-stop procession to the start line, we were off.

The first five miles of the course were pretty much identical to the Seattle Marathon, which I ran last November. However, I quickly found out there are some key differences to running them on a warm June morning. The first clue that this wasn’t going to be easy was when we turned off of the downtown Seattle streets into the highway’s express lanes. Not only did the course narrow considerably at this point, but it also appeared they had recently started work to resurface the asphalt, leaving the roadway uneven and choppy. Add in the crowded conditions in an enclosed tunnel and it also became warm and humid very quickly. When the cool air hit me upon leaving the tunnel, it was too much for me and I ended up having to spend a couple of minutes dry heaving on the side of the course. With an earlier-than-usual application of electrolytes, I got moving again, making sure to take it a little easier – not only to correct for the conditions, but also to try and conserve energy for what I knew was coming.

We came down off of the freeway and headed out through the Wallingford and Fremont. This section was relatively flat, so I tried to set myself on a semi-conservative cruising pace. This was also the location of what was probably my favorite and the most touching sections of the race, the Blue Mile. Populated with portraits of fallen service members and what seemed like hundreds of volunteers holding American flags, it was a much more emotional experience than I expected it to be. A few more blocks after that and we were heading out through Ballard and toward the Ballard Bridge.

The Ballard Bridge was apparently a new addition to the route this year, and one that could have been executed better. The bridge itself isn’t difficult, but the majority of the bridge deck is open metal grating. For the Chicago Marathon, they put carpets down on the metal grating bridges to provide a little protection (and I’ve still seen people wipe out pretty badly both times I’ve run Chicago). But here? Nothing. Because I know how much of a klutz I can be, I ended up vaulting over the safety wall and running on the tiny sidewalk for most of the length of the bridge. A quick turn off of the bridge and we started toward…THE HILL.

Queen Anne hill is easily the most difficult feature/landmark/hellmouth of any race I’ve run. It’s nearly a mile long with an average 9(ish)% grade incline. At first you’re thinking “hey, this isn’t so bad,” quickly replaced by “please, please kill me now.” Keep in mind this is also coming at mile 10 of a race that has already had several smaller climbs. This is also where they had the St. Jude Mile, featuring children who had been treated at St. Jude hospitals. Unfortunately, I think this was overshadowed by just how much most of us were struggling to get through that point of the course. I ended up walking a good portion of the uphill portion where, right around the crest of the hill, we passed the “Grey’s Anatomy Intern House.” As one of my running friends put it, “it was cool, but really not worth the climb.” We did enjoy some pretty spectacular views of the Seattle skyline as we passed Kerry Park, then it was time to head back down.

The downhill was almost worse than the uphill, with some parts of the descent feeling even steeper than the climb. Many of us slowed way down and even walked parts of it to protect knees and ankles – as hard as I’ve worked to come back from my knee sprain, I wasn’t taking any chances. We leveled out at the bottom of the hill, had another turn, another downhill, then one final small uphill before the final run (for the half marathon) into the finishing chute.

And, then, it was done. After finish line pictures, re-hydrating (chocolate milk!), and a little refueling, I relaxed for a bit and then headed for home.

While I definitely felt like a badass after running the Seattle Rock and Roll Half, I’m not sure I would run it again. It’s not the difficulty of the course so much – that actually gives a bit of a perverse satisfaction for having conquered it. Mostly, I just wasn’t terribly impressed with the overall organization of the race. For anyone who wants to run through downtown Seattle and the surrounding neighborhoods, I would recommend the Seattle Marathon and Half Marathon over Rock and Roll.

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