Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Half Marathon

Rock 'n' Roll Series' "Midwest Best"
It was at the expo for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon back in July that the distance running cognoscenti (hah, I’ve always wanted to use that word in my writing!) was informed that finishers of any of the races they offered at Chicago plus either St. Louis or Cleveland would be eligible to receive a new limited edition medal they were dubbing “Midwest Best.” It would be a massive medal in the shape of an eagle wearing black sunglasses and a pair of red running shoes around its neck, joined by a ribbon connected to its wings. As with most of the Rock ‘n’ Roll series medals, it doubled as a bottle opener, but this one could also be mounted to the wall! Cleveland was out of the question, because it was the day before the Chicago Marathon (and it would end up being cancelled in September anyway, due to low registration) and I was highly doubting that St. Louis could even be considered (the week afterward) because I predicted I’d still be sore from my efforts at the marathon.

Even so, my cousin Kristine and my new friend Donna, were quick to coerce me into signing up for St. Louis. After my Ragnar race, when I was in the midst of marathon training, I decided, “why the heck not… yeah, I’ll probably be sore, but I’ll walk it when I need to, and take it easy. It’ll be a shake out run, despite the distance.  It’s gonna be all about that medal.”  So I found a cheap ticket there and back (thank goodness for Amex rewards points), and added it to my plans for “Rock ‘n’ Roll [series] domination,” as a Tourpass holder for as many of the remaining races I could get into.
Boy, that arch really makes a good
photo op...
I flew into St. Louis early Saturday morning, the day after the Front Runners New York variety show.  Luckily, my bags were already packed from Chicago the week before, so I just replaced a few items here and there.  I took the MetroLink train from the airport to the Convention Center station downtown to go directly to the expo at America’s Center to pick up my bib.  It was a nice expo – not too big, not too small – medium sized is the best way to describe it; with your RnR booth mainstays, plus some local running companies and organizations looking to promote their services.  Still a better expo than what was at RnR MontrĂ©al.  A local physical therapists office was providing stretching for runners, so I took advantage, having one of their PT’s work on my calves.  I also went to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series booth to wax poetic on the multiple RnR races I’ve run and the several I’m still slated to run for the remainder of the year. I made friends with one of the staff, Amy, who let me in on the exciting (secret?) news that Brooklyn was slated to return to the schedule in 2015!

It's like PeeWee's playhouse. But so
much metal, make sure you get
your tetanus shots...
After the expo, I got some pasta (to start some carb loading) at a nearby restaurant, Stefano’s, and had my first taste Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale, a local brew.  I took a cab to my Airbnb in Lafayette Square and got settled before I decided to go on a little walk along the last mile of the race route back downtown.  I headed to the City Museum, a St. Louis landmark consisting largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, housed in the former International Shoe building, as well as an "eclectic mixture of children's playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel," as the museum bills itself as.  The building is basically like an adult and children’s Discovery Zone (remember those entertainment facilities back in the 90’s?), but on steroids.  There are a number of tunnels that run across the floor and across the ceiling, some even hiding under fiberglass insulation cut to give the impression of icicles, old refrigerating coils that can be climbed into giant hollowed out treehouses.  There’s even an area where visitors can climb up elaborate “caves” all the way up to the tenth floor, and then ride a slide ten stories down.  Outside, there’s a massive maze of “not your ordinary” playground equipment!  I only had an hour here, and didn’t wear the best clothes to be able to explore like other visitors (hello, skinny jeans…), but it was still a blast.

Running kit laid out
for the early morning!
Shortly thereafter, I met up with Donna, who had just flown in from Baltimore (after traversing the globe from a two week vacation in Australia, where she ran the Melbourne Marathon the same day I ran Chicago, running the Baltimore Half Marathon on Saturday, and then getting on a plane to St. Louis to run a half there!) and new friend Andrew, who drove in from central Illinois (and had also run Chicago the week before).  We ate (more) pasta at the Old Spaghetti Factory at Laclede’s Landing near the arch, and then they dropped me off back at my Airbnb for the night.

The Start Line, just before we were
off to start our 13.1 mile "jaunt!"
A vision in turquoise and orange.
Donna joked that I glowed in the
pre-sunrise darkness.
Bright and early the next morning, they picked me up and we made our way downtown to the startline of the race.  It was a CHILLY morning. We were off by 7am, making our way around the gently rolling hills of downtown, passing by Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals play, and then traversing across downtown toward St. Louis University, passing by The Fabulous Fox Theatre on Grand Boulevard. It was between the fourth and fifth mile, where we made our way eastward for about half a mile on Laclede Avenue, where we encountered our first major hill of the course.  And it was a doozy… at first, you could only see the very top of the arch.  As you got to Grand Boulevard (again), you turned right and headed downhill toward the I-64 underpass, and then uphill again, as you went over the MetroLink and industrial train tracks.

Appreciating the pretty architecture
of Lafayette Square
The course continues through the Tower Grove and Botanical Heights area, through Shaw and the pretty homes of Compton Heights.  It makes its way through Lafayette Square before heading back toward downtown, passing St. Louis Union Station, and then a final push along two blocks of Chestnut Street to the finish line, just a block away from the start.  The deceivingly hilly route was actually quite well laid out, and there was decent crowd support especially in the more residential areas of the latter part of the half marathon route. The marathoners were running the same first half and then split off just before mile 11, to St. Louis’ Carondelet Park on the southern fringe of the city, before making the return trip back toward Lafayette Square toward downtown.  The aid stations were decently spread out, and I took advantage of water and Gatorade along the route (though a supposed GU stop after mile 7 never actually happened, which Rock ‘n’ Roll has acknowledged was due to their oversight of not arranging proper delivery.)

Wearing ALL of the bling.
In the end, I managed to eclipse my previous “second best” half marathon time, which I had set the previous week on the flat first half of the Chicago Marathon, a 2:10:53 effort.  I finished in a time of 2:05:29, only four minutes off of my PR, which I had set in the RnR Chicago race in July.  To heck with a shake out run – and it didn’t feel hard!  This will definitely make me ready for my November test of four halfs within a fifteen day period.  I met up with Andrew and Donna afterward (Andrew finished in a blazing fast 1:29:42, good enough for 58th place out of 6000+ finishers!), did my victory headstand photo (with my well-deserved Midwest Best medal and St. Louis finishers’ medal, which all three of us got – and Andrew was able to pick up his “Rock Star” medal for his fifth RnR race), and then had a great lunch at a really awesome burger and shake restaurant downtown, Baileys’ Range, where everything was made from scratch!  We were all super tired, and Andrew drove Donna and I to the airport for our afternoon flights back to NYC.  I proudly wore my medals on the flight home!

Victory Headstand!

Bye, St. Louis!!!  Thanks for an awesome race!

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