The 2016 Suja Rock n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon was definitely a big race for me. Not only was it my first half marathon postpartum, but it’s also one of my favorite races (RnR SD was my first full marathon in 2011). This year I was not only a Rock n’ Blog ambassador for the third year (use Fitnessfatale for $15 off most 2016 Rock n’ Roll races!), but also a Suja Juice ambassador, so the race was extra special. It seems like the whole city comes out for this race and so many friends and teammates participate. It really feels like my “hometown race” even though it’s an absolute giant with about 33,000 runners.
Race weekend kicked off with the VIP welcome reception, which I received an invitation to through my partnership with Suja. Mike and I got a babysitter, got all dressed up and headed to Harbor Island for cocktails and dinner at the spectacular new restaurant, Coasterra. The view of the harbor and downtown was amazing and we had a really good time meeting new people and chatting with old friends. Of course we did some Meb stalking but never found the right opportunity to introduce ourselves and snap a photo.
Saturday morning Asia, Siena and I headed downtown to the expo which is always held at the convention center. Rock n’ Roll is known for their pretty awesome expos and we had a good time exploring and chatting with friends. We spent some time at the Suja booth, gaped at the Brooks mechanical shoe, and of course took our obligatory expo photos.
Mike and I ended up going to a friend’s BBQ that afternoon but left before they started grilling so we could go home and eat my typical pasta pre-race dinner and get ready for the next morning. Asia and I planned to leave Encinitas at 4:15 AM which meant a 3:30 wake-up call to get everything done and pump before we left, so I planned to be in bed before 9 p.m. Luckily I did achieve that goal, but I felt like I spent the entire day running around and didn’t really get a chance to relax.
Race morning went as smoothly as possible – Asia and I left just 5 minutes later than planned, didn’t hit any traffic and parked right near the start in our VIP parking. We arrived at the VIP tent just before 5 a.m. and had over an hour of waiting to do before the start. We chatted with the women at our table (two best friends who have been running together for years and a 21 year old girl who was doing her first full marathon), ate the second half of our breakfast (we both made peanut butter banana sandwiches) and used the restrooms. At 5:45 we met up with some other Oiselle runners for a group photo and to wish each other luck before the race.
We started in Corral 5 and ended up crossing the start line about 3 minutes after the gun went off. It was really crowded at first and the pace was slower than expected, but I wasn’t worried about it since my plan was to start out slow and negative split. The race starts in Balboa park and then heads into Hillcrest, where the street is lined with spectators. This is always a fun part of the race because energy is high and the spectators are extra fresh and excited. There were a lot of high fives happening. My favorite sign during this section was “If Trump can run, so can you!” Well played.
As planned, Asia and I were chatting away as we ran, although pretty quickly we were commenting about how warm we felt thanks to the humidity, even though it was gloomy and not necessarily a hot morning. Despite a pace in the low 9 minute mile range, I didn’t feel great during the first few miles of the race. My legs didn’t feel fresh and my breathing was heavier than I would have liked. I ran past a girl who was wearing a backpack that said “High five for power” and I high fived her and said “I need your power already!.” This is similar to what happened to me last time I ran this race, and I ended up having a major second wind and PRing so I tried not to think about it too much. It’s normal for my legs to need a few miles to get with the party and a race isn’t any different. I didn’t do much of a warm-up the morning of the race and I hadn’t run at all since Thursday, so it was expected that my body needed some shaking out to do. Not to mention, the first few miles of the race are a net incline so my legs were also feeling it from the rolling hills.
Asia and I both acknowledged to each other that we weren’t feeling great, but we agreed that we would stay positive. We made a plan to “dance” at every band that we passed, whether it was a fist pump or some other dancing motion and we stuck to it. A friend once told me to lift both my arms overhead and cheer in a race whenever I was feeling tired and I have used that principle in every race since. It is truly incredible how much control your mind has over how your body feels in a race – every time I ran past a band and cheered and danced I felt an instant boost. I forgot about my tired legs and just celebrated that I was running.
As planned, Asia and I both took our first Gu at mile 4. I started feeling better right around the same time – I’m not sure if it was related, but I suddenly got a boost. My plan was to pick up the pace at mile 5 and it was easy to do so as I had naturally been feeling better and moving quicker. I was really enjoying myself and having a great time and interacting with spectators the best I could. I kept chatting away to Asia and taking in the scenery and spectators. She started to respond less and I could tell she hasn’t gotten the boost that I did.
One of the most memorable parts of the race was the Wear Blue Mile. The first half or so of the mile was lined with photos of fallen soldiers and the second half was lined with members of the community holding American flags. It was a really incredible tribute and I got a bit emotional as I ran through it, thanking the people holding the flags for their service and for their participation in our race.
Around mile 6.5 or so, I laughed out loud and repeated a spectator sign outloud. Suddenly I realized that I wasn’t working as hard as I should be (according to my plan I was supposed to have picked it up to more of a tempo pace) and I started to pick up the pace. At this point Asia got stuck behind another runner and decided to just let me go so that she could slow down her pace. I was on my own from there on out. I was feeling really, really good. I started doing math trying to figure out how I could run sub 1:50 and realized I could do it if I ran around a 7:50-8 min/mile from there on out (kind of forgot about the whole you always run longer than the course thing too). I thought it could be possible given how great I was feeling at that point and the fact that the end of the course has a really nice downhill. Even if I didn’t go sub 1:50, I figured that at least having that goal would be a good way to stay motivated to work hard.
The course was more hilly than I remember and I kept waiting for the downhill portion to start. The excitement I had during mile 7 started fading a bit. I took another Gu at mile 8 and got a little boost but my pace was definitely slowing on the hills. I focused on dancing to the bands, high fiving and thanking spectators and smiling as much as possible.
For those who aren’t from San Diego, the course isn’t exactly what you might imagine. While San Diego has miles and miles of gorgeous coastline, it also has a lot of really interesting neighborhoods, many of which are included in the Rock n’ Roll half marathon. Since I live in North County, I don’t get to spend much time down in these neighborhoods so I enjoyed checking out the restaurants, coffee shops, bars and shops along the way. Another perk is that many of the residents of these communities come out to cheer – this is definitely the most well spectated half marathon in San Diego. Some of the offerings that the people in the community brought to the runners included tequila shots, donuts, Red Vines and beer. I didn’t partake in any of their offerings, but I’m sure many did!
I started not feeling as great around mile 9 and decided to start dedicating miles to people. This is a tip that Asia gave the girl sitting at our table before the race who asked for any marathon advice we had. She told her that when the miles got tough, it was useful to dedicate each one to someone. I decided to dedicate mile 9 to Siena as she starts her 9th month of life!
After I passed the 10 mile mark, I started feeling pretty good again (this mile was dedicated to Mike, particularly for his support for my running). I kept waiting for the epic downhill finish, but it came later than I thought. We passed through Balboa Park, taking a nice steep decline into the park followed by an unexpected incline before the final descent into downtown via Pershing Drive. After we got back on mostly flat ground, my legs started to feel heavy but I got a boost as I passed through the Suja tunnel which was completely overtaken by blasting music and flashing lights. Mile 11 was for Asia for being a great friend and running partner. As I entered downtown, I decided to dedicate Mile 12 to my past life. I lived in downtown San Diego the year after I graduated college and it was a tough year for me – I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t healthy. I have come so far since then in terms of my self-confidence, happiness and health. I am so incredibly thankful for what fitness and running has brought to my life – it changed my world.
The final mile of the race was the best. I dedicated it to myself, as a mom, who takes time to do what I love. My legs, which had been getting pretty heavy, suddenly felt fresh. I picked up the pace and pushed it to the finish. The final half mile or so was lined with spectators and I raised my arms and cheered at them, which meant in turn that they cheered louder for me! I felt great – I had incredible runner’s high! As I was coming up on the finish I was smiling from ear to ear. I felt so alive and happy to be doing what I love. A girl came up behind me going fast and I decided to pick up the pace and try to keep pace with her and we both sped up, racing each other. We ended up finishing next to each other (and later looking at my watch I realized I ran a 6:30 average for that section!) and congratulated each other after we finished.
While I was waiting in the finisher chute for Asia to come through, I met Jen from Pretty Little Grub (and congratulated her on her first sub 2 hour half marathon!) who I had been hoping I’d get a chance to meet for the first time at the race. Once Asia came through we saw our friend Amy and then Asia and I headed over to the VIP tent for some Suja juice, breakfast and best of all, a massage!
While we waited for our massages, I had an important mission – find somewhere to pump! I brought my pump with me but had forgotten to borrow the battery pack from a friend. I had to find somewhere with a bit of privacy and a plug! Sadly there was no where in the VIP area that would work so I ended up going to the medical tent and asking for help – they directed me to a Kaiser Permanente medical trailer which happened to have a private room that I could use to pump in! It was pretty much amazing and I’m glad I asked. Our car was parked at the start line several miles away and I would have had to forgo all the post-race fun.
The fun continued as we headed over to watch Gavin DeGraw perform at the after race concert with our friend Natalie. I was a big fan of Gavin DeGraw in college (which I can’t believe was nearly 10 years ago – eek!!!) so it was fun to see him live! After the show ended we walked to the Hard Rock Cafe which was about 1 mile away for the We Run Social after party for a Suja cocktail and conversation with some new friends. I wasn’t even exactly sure what We Run Social was until that day (here’s a good explanation in case you’re wondering too!) but was happy that we went to the meet-up and met some new people. On our way back to Encinitas we stopped at In n’ Out and I spent the afternoon with Mike and Siena. It was a pretty incredible weekend and I felt so lucky to be a part of the Suja, Rock n’ Blog and Oiselle teams.
Have you ever done a Rock n’ Roll race? What was your favorite race weekend?
I had so much fun with you that day! I can’t wait for our next race! Maybe we’ll even stay together like old times 😉
So glad we are back to training together!!!
Congrats!!! I think it’s amazing how you have come back so strong- excited to follow along for upcoming marathon training. I’ve also been referencing your 70.3 training posts as I’m hoping to compelte my first one this September!
Thank you! Which 70.3 are you doing? Glad to help!!!
Jen @ Pretty Little Grub
Congratulations on your race. You came back SO strong! It was so great to meet you too.
I definitely found the first couple of miles tough, between the humidity and the hills, I was struggling which is always hard on the mental game.
Congrats on a great race! I love the dedicating miles idea and the fist pumping. I’ve got to try it.
(I signed up for the 2017 RNR SD 1/2 the other day because the awesome and cheap deal–Ive never signed up so far in advance!)
Awesome! It such a fun race!
You’ll be at San Diego Craft Classic right?
Congrats on your race, Nicole! Sounds like you ran a great race with a strong finish – 6:30 pace through the finish is fantastic!
I’m the same as you in that it takes me several miles for my legs to wake up during training runs and longer distance races. I don’t seem to have this issue with 5ks but anything more than a 10k and my legs are like dead weights for the first several miles!
Love your idea of dedicating the miles to important people in your life!
Kelly @ Noodle to the Rescue
Congratulations on a great first half marathon postpartum! I did my first once since my son was born last weekend too. (Much slower than you though!)
I live in Colorado now but grew up in San Diego and my family vacation in La Jolla almost every summer. I’ve done the La Jolla Half and the American’s Finest City Half… Would love to do RNR someday too!
thank you! Congrats to you too!!! La Jolla and AFC are great races too – they really show off our city with the beautiful courses!
Leslie @ Triathlete Treats
Congrats!! Maybe not the best race ever but well executed!!! Sounds like you had fun too!!!
I’ve done lots and lots of RNR races!! My favorite is AZ. I run it every year!! I have not done San Diego. I would like to run it one year but I hear it is always hotter than the last year. 😉
Thanks! Yes the race went exactly as I hoped! Arizona sounds hot too ! But i guess that is in January. Maybe I’ll do it next year and see you there!!!