Thursday, November 20, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Rock 'n' Roll Savannah Half Marathon, 5k, and 1 mile

Savannah from the airplane
I left work early to get myself to JFK to take my 1:45 flight to Savannah direct.  So far, this has been the cheapest of my airfare expenses to get to a race that required an airplane; sales were aplenty from JFK to Savannah and back, as well as to and from Charleston, so I quickly booked those fares back in July!  I decided to make an extended trip out of it, since Savannah was only two hours south of Charleston, and visit my childhood friend Sarah while I was in the area, and it worked out perfectly!

Downtown Savannah at dusk
Only three weeks prior to Savannah, I met Andrew Martin through my friend Donna, and he decided to run the Savannah race on a whim, booking his flight from central Illinois to Georgia only a couple weeks before the race weekend.  We timed it perfectly that his flight arrived fifteen minutes after mine, so after he landed, we proceeded to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car counter located right in the airport.  Very quick and easy, we got the pretty silver Nissan Sentra (they upgraded me!) and headed over to the expo for bib pick-up.

The expo was located at the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center on Hutchinson Island, just across the Savannah River from downtown Savannah.  We crossed the gorgeous Talmadge Memorial Bridge along US-17 to get to the expo, and immediately found ourselves in slow moving traffic getting to the convention center parking lot.  After finally parking, we made our way to the expo – a nice, medium sized expo, a little larger than St. Louis’.  You found your standard Rock ‘n’ Roll expo exhibitors here, plus some booths advertising races in the Southeast like the Gasparilla Half in Tampa, the Charleston Half, and many others.  Here, I picked up all three of my bibs for the weekend – since I was running the half marathon on Saturday, and then a 5K and 1 mile race as part of the “Sweet Tee Challenge” on Sunday. 

It was starting to get a little late, and Andrew and I were getting hungry, so we headed to downtown Savannah, and went to a nice Italian restaurant along East Bay Street, Pacci Kitchen + Bar, the restaurant within The Brice Hotel.  Dinner was delicious, and they had a special prix fixe menu for participants of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon and Marathon.  I had a delicious arugula salad and a tasty gemelli caserecce with garden herbs, market vegetables, shaved parmesan, and salmon, with a glass of montepulciano.
We finally headed to our accommodations, an Airbnb on nearby Whitemarsh Island.  Our host, Julia was very accommodating, and it was a great set up since she was running the race the next day, too.  In fact, she had guests for other Airbnb listings in another bedroom in the house and in another house she owned next door!  She even drove into downtown with me so that I could park my rental near the finish line for easy access after the race since she was doing the full; and she or her friend would take us to the start in the morning.
The next morning, Andrew and I headed downtown pretty early and were dropped off by Julia’s friend Brian near the start line, where we made it just in time for a photo with other members of the Fifty States Half Marathon Club on the steps in front of the US Customs House.  It was a chilly morning, so I  warmed up as best I could since the race wouldn’t start for another hour.  Bay Street began to fill up rapidly with people, stretching all the way to the end of Emmet Park.  At 7:15, we were off!

The race course was great, offering me an opportunity to see a lot of Savannah.  The first couple miles headed westward toward a poorer section of the city.  It was a little sad to see several people collecting discarded clothing along this part of the course route (since many people rid themselves of sweatpants, sweatshirts, and jackets to shield from the morning chill).  We passed the majestic Talmadge Memorial Bridge and toward a long stretch of highway toward the first entertainment stage, featuring a gospel choir – great to witness at 7:30 in the chilly morning!  We entered the poorer neighborhoods of West Savannah, but still the residents in the homes along the route in were very vibrant and jovial, cheering us on as we passed them.

The iconic oak trees and Spanish
Moss of Savannah
(photo from Bonaventure Cemetery)
As we approached mile 5, we re-entered downtown Savannah, and began to encounter throngs of spectators cheering us on.  We ran around several of the historic public squares that dot the downtown landscape.  The best part of downtown was running down Oglethorpe Avenue, enclosed by a gorgeous canopy of live oak trees with “hanging beards” of Spanish moss that typify this great city.  Mile 8 took us down East Broad Street and then eastward toward the more affluent areas of East Savannah, near Truman Parkway.  An out and back took us back toward Savannah proper, and to the finish line at Forsyth Park, where we were greeted by an awesome post-race concert with Detroit-based Cranford Hollow and the headlining act, Phillip Phillips of American Idol fame.  I also got my “Rock Star” Heavy Medal, commemorating my fifth Rock ‘n’ Roll race in 2014!

Enjoying Savannah's lax open
container laws!
After resting a little while, Andrew and I got back to my car, left untouched, thankfully, at the spot we had parked it the night before.  We spent the rest of the day discovering what Savannah had to offer: eating some delicious barbecue at the recommended hole-in-the-wall restaurant “Angels,” per my high school friend Jessica; driving to the historic Bonaventure Cemetery; a quick stop back at the Airbnb for a shower, and then off to Tybee Island for a hot minute to see the beach (it was too cold and windy to spend much time there!), and then back to downtown Savannah for picture taking at Chippewa Square, made famous from the movie Forrest Gump, and drinks at various watering holes heading toward River Street, where we were able to sample lots of pralines and decadent candies! It also helps that the city has very lax open container laws, so we just took our drinks with us in to go cups!  We finished the night at Publix supermarket to get some oft-mentioned delicious Italian subs that definitely did not disappoint.

Medal Haul: FIVE!!! Half, 5k, 1 mile,
Remix Challenge, #5 Heavy Medal!
The next morning, I took Andrew to the airport for his early morning flight and then returned back for some more sleep before I headed off to Daffin Park for my last two races – a nice and easy 5k and 1 mile race!  The 5k was fun, circling around the neighborhood surrounding the park, and finishing at home plate in Grayson Stadium, home of the minor league Savannah Sand Gnats baseball team.  Afterwards, I made my way out of town toward Charleston for a fun couple of days with my old friend Sarah and her family!

Victory Headstand, as per usual!

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