Friday, March 3, 2017

Race Report: 2016 Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Half Marathon

At the Baltimore airport, I met up with Donna and Kim, who were also waiting to board the Southwest Airlines flight to St. Louis.  We had just finished the Baltimore Running Festival that morning - Donna and I running the full, and Kim the half.  Kim had an earlier boarding number, so upon arriving on the plane she staked out three seats next to each other for the three of us to sit together on the just under two hour flight.  We arrived in St. Louis extremely exhausted, and took the shuttle to the parking lot where Kim's car was kept for the weekend. Kim took us back to her house in Florissant, where we, as best as we could, turned in for the night, in between eating some delicious St. Louis-style pizza (OMG, who knew that there was such a thing... it's a thin crust pizza that uses a processed white cheese called Provel, and it was so good!) and preparing signs for the race the next morning.

Donna and Kim had decided to not partake in the race, but instead make it a cheering day on Sunday, as it was a really big race for a couple of our friends.  Jann and Mike Carlson have been hard at work running half marathons in all fifty states, and they planned it out well in advance to make the Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Half Marathon and Missouri their 50th state.  I had informed them that I was doing the Baltimore Marathon, so I wasn't going to be able to make their finish... but as per usual, I deceived them, and I decided to make the trip, too, and they had no clue I was going to be there! Additionally, a few months before this weekend, I also reached out to the event manager for the race and was successfully able to get the opportunity to sing the national anthem at the start of the race.

So that I did, and early on Sunday morning, the three of us made our way to the start line, I going straight to the Solutions tent to retrieve my bib, and then make my way to the start area to "hide out" while Donna and Kim kept the Carlsons distracted.  In fact, the Carlsons had actually made their way to the start line for some photos and had every opportunity to discover me hiding there, but I stayed out of their line of sight!  It wasn't until I was introduced and I sang the first few notes of the national anthem that they realized I was there.  I succeeded in keeping my big secret from them!  My friend Dana stuck around near the start to take my phone and take video of my performance:


Me with 50th state finisher, Jann!
After singing the national anthem, we headed toward the corral I was told everyone was congregating, and found Jann with tears in her eyes, completely surprised that I had come to St. Louis to be there for her and Mike's monumental running milestone.  Together, the group of us crossed the start line, and I ran the first 1.5 miles with them, complete with my UE Boom speaker, which I brought with me to entertain fellow runners during the race as an unofficial "party rocker" like I had done for several races in 2015.

I last raced the Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Half Marathon in 2014, when at the time, I was terrified of running it so soon after my first marathon - only a week after Chicago. I actually did quite well, running a 2:05 half, enough to be only a couple minutes off of my PR at the time, which was surprising.  But that became the start of my craziness, eventually running several more half marathons, including my first "double" half marathon weekend in November 2014, and finishing that first year of distance running out with 14 half marathons and my first full marathon.

Sunrise, with the Gateway Arch just after the startline

Heading up 14th Street to Delmar Boulevard
Passing by the historic home of ragtime composer Scott Joplin,
where he composed "The Entertainer"
Running by the City Museum
The course layout was not much different than it was in 2014, with differences in the turns early on near the St. Louis Cardinals' Busch Stadium (instead of turning onto Walnut Street from Broadway and heading up N. 7th Street to Locust Street, then taking that westward to 19th Street, up to Delmar Blvd - which was the route in 2014 - we continued on Broadway northward, and then turned left onto Olive St, which we took westward to 14th Street up to Delmar Blvd, and then later on after the 3 mile mark, removing the dogleg onto Samuel Shepard Drive) and near the end (where instead of heading straight north from Russell Blvd onto Mississippi Avenue, we continued onto Russell Blvd one block to 18th Street, and took that curved road up to Mississippi Avenue).

Running westward as the 10K runners are heading back downtown to their finish

Early on, I knew this was going to be a very "take it easy" kind of race, since I was pretty tired still from the marathon I had ran the day before. My splits stayed above 11 minutes a mile after the first mile, which was fine by me, as long as I got a chance to just enjoy the day.  In the end, it's all about crossing that finish line.

Check it out, it's the Fabulous Fox Theatre!

Up the half mile long hill at Laclede Avenue, as the arch comes into view
Being sassy next to a gay
bar in Tower Grove (like you do...)
Highlights during the race included running by Scott Joplin's boyhood home and past the Fabulous Fox Theatre, and memorably though difficultly climbing the nasty hill at Laclede Avenue.  Donna and Kim, with the signs we had so painstakingly put together the night before, were positioned twice along the course, too!  As we went under I-64, and headed up Grand Avenue into the Tower Grove neighborhood of St. Louis, I ran into an a cappella friend, Emily, easily crushing her 19th lifetime half marathon (and 11th this year!) on her 26th birthday.  Somehow, I think seeing my constant running and travelling posts on Facebook may have rubbed off on her... just a tiny bit.

Also running through Tower Grove, I came upon some fellow Black Sheep Run friends, including Christina, deep into a Facebook Live video (yaasssss for video-bombing, as I strutted through St. Louis' gayborhood!) and De Moe and John, who decided to play a game of towel whipping with each other... which I politely declined to participate in and decidedly sprinted away from!  We continued on through Shaw and Compton Heights, seeing some magnificent large houses, all while strolling along the way.

Towel whipping Black Sheep friends! 

Running along Magnolia Avenue in Shaw alongside Tower Grove Park

Just a smattering of the beautiful homes through tony Compton Heights

I drink during races.  :-p
BEST. RACE. POSTER. EVER.
The race was easily one of my slowest half marathons, clocking in at 2:56:21, but it didn't matter to me - it was warm out there, and damn it, I ran a full marathon the day before!  I had fun, taking a full can of beer from spectators along the course, and posing for pictures with others holding some awesome posters! I awaited Jann and Mike at the end of the race, cheering them in as they finished their 50th state.  The day wasn't without its emotion - Jann was pretty dehydrated by the time they got to the finish and had to spend some time in the medical tent cooling down.  But as soon as they were able to, I proudly got my headstand photo with these two awesome celebrants near the finish line.



...so stay behind me.


After having a beer with my Black Sheep Run friends who stuck around the finish line festival, I headed over to Bailey's Range to have a much needed burger and alcoholic shake, followed by a trip to Hooters, as this was a fitting finish venue to celebrate the Carlsons.  Mike LOVES Hooters, and in their travels all around the US, they've attempted to visit Hooters or Hooters equivalents in all fifty states!

The trees definitely make this shot.  10.5 miles in...
LOL.  Dedicated to Donna.

Downtown STL back in view....

Crossing the 12th St Railyard of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Union Station
The afternoon passed quickly, and after showers and repacking my bag at Kim's house, Kim took Donna and I back to the airport for our flights back to New York... and another 39.3 mile weekend was complete!

Victory Headstand #1, with the 50 State finishers, Jann and Mike!

Victory Headstand #2... because you HAVE to have the arch in the shot when in St. Louis...


Bling and bibs

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