San Diego is the original race in the Rock n Roll series, and the 2016 event marked its 19th running. For us, Rock n Roll events offer up a chance to run 13.1 miles and really celebrate doing so. The more of their events we run, the more we realize each race has its own particular strengths.
Rock n Roll expos are always major events, and San Diego was no exception. Having run Raleigh, Savannah, Las Vegas, and Virginia Beach, we can say that SD was the crowning glory of the five expos. Packet pickup was just as efficient as all the other RnR's, but the vendors at San Diego were even more plentiful and generous than the other four (and that's not easy to do!) Runners were invited to sample the wares of Power Bar, Honey Stinger, Smarty Pants vitamins, Hemp Hearts, Snap Pea Crisps, Michelob Ultra, and even vendors like Hidden Valley were doling out Greek yogurt dressing while Star was supplying runners with olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Also to be found at this expo were two Olympians: Shalane Flanagan and Amy Hastings Cragg. After a quick interview with a Rock n Roll representative (broadcast across the speaker system for all to hear) the two athletes generously posed for pictures with fans. To find out who is scheduled to speak at a Rock n Roll event, you can Google "Rock n Roll Olympians" and be directed to a schedule of events for a particular race.
At the expo, Rock n Roll also offers various upgrades and additions to one's race registration. We did not investigate the VIP experience any further after discovering it wasn't necessary to enjoy the Las Vegas race 7 months prior. We did however purchase two $5 shuttle tickets that were to drive us from Horton Square to the race start. Unfortunately, we regretted this purchase on race morning when the line for the shuttle snaked through Westfield Horton Plaza and all the way into a parking garage. Being assigned corrals 1 and 5, we opted to hoof it the 1.7 miles to the start rather than miss the beginning of the race. Our recommendation: either arrive at the shuttle REALLY early (we arrived one hour prior to race start) or be sure to stay at a hotel within what you consider walking distance to the starting line. (Of note: we discovered that a 1.7 mile walk is a delightful warmup to a half and cruised through this race with ease.)
The race expo was held at the San Diego Convention Center. Because the convention center is located across from the Gaslamp district of the city, it's easy to enjoy the expo (give yourself a couple of hours for this) and then grab a bite to eat in Gaslamp (or do some shopping if all the freebies at the expo weren't enough to sate your appetite for material goods.)
We highly recommend staying somewhere that is within walking distance to both the start and finish of the race. We lucked out at the Renaissance Downtown (421 W B St). Though it was a 1.7 mile walk to the start, we walked it anyway and were perfectly warmed up for the race upon arrival. The finish line was located a mere three blocks from the hotel, making it easy to shower and change before heading back out for the post-race concert.
Other hotels in the same area included Springhill Suites San Diego Downtown Bayfront and Wyndam San Diego Bayside.
Places to Eat
There's something for every palate in downtown San Diego. If, like us, you prefer to carb load on Italian food prior to a half marathon, check out the Little Italy part of town. We visited the area to meet friends at Ballast Point Brewery, and salivated all the way down India Street, the main thoroughfare of Little Italy. If you're a beer drinker, head to Ballast Point, order a beer and the fish tacos. You will not be disappointed.
Anyone wishing for a meal after the race expo should head through the Gaslamp district where there's a restaurant for everyone.
Rock n Roll San Diego took runners inland and through the more residential areas of San Diego. While we missed out on ocean views, residents of places like Normal Heights and North Park ensured that we had plenty of fan support. Though the course itself wasn't particularly scenic, we found ourselves in debate over our favorite part. There was the Run to Remember section which lined the street with photos of fallen soldiers and American flags (we dare you not to tear up here). Then there were the goofier sections where spectators had their own aid stations set up, offering runners everything from tequila shots to Krispy Creme Donuts to a fully cooked sausage and egg breakfast. We both chuckled at at the sign that read "Sobriety Check Point" which may or may not have been set up near the tequila shots.
The course is composed of flat stretches combined with some gently rolling hills and one serious downhill. To us it was the perfect course, terrain-wise. This hills rolled enough to be interesting and kept our muscles from exhausting as they might on a purely flat course.
What may be most delightful was the net downhill of the last 3 miles of the race. The last quarter mile, from where runners make their final turn to the finish, is a long, gradual downhill allowing everyone to cruise across the finish line like a champion. And, if you're looking for it, you can catch a glimpse of the San Diego Bay just beyond the finish line arch. Continue heading this way post-race, and you'll arrive at the post-race party where more freebies await at the Finish Line Festival at Balboa Park.
Before runners even exit the finisher chute, there are tons of goodies to replenish all those burned calories. We're tempted to bring a collapsible grocery bag to our next RnR just so we can carry everything the event had to offer. As it was, our pockets were stuffed with Powerbars, while we juggled Snap Pea Crisps, Gatorade, chocolate milk, fruit cups, bananas, and water. Fortunately, we had enough time between our race finish and the beginning of the Gavin DeGraw concert to saunter back to the hotel, relieve ourselves of the burden of so many freebies, and shower and change before heading back out.
By the time we arrived at Waterfront Park, the Finish Line Festival was in full swing with Gavin DeGraw providing a soundtrack to the day's events. Plenty of food was available for purchase (sausageandmeat.com, anyone?) while the real score of the day was free Suja juice for anyone willing to stand in a short line. We scored a good $20 worth of juice and spent our ride up the California coast the following day trying to drink it all.
For anyone living in California, this race is a must-do. To have a party like this one in your own back yard is something SoCalifornians must take advantage of. For those tempted to fly across the country for this event, know that you'll get an experience that is a consistent with the caliber with other Rock n Roll events.
Tips for Running a Successful Rock n Roll Half Marathon
- Find a hotel within walking distance for you to the start and finish of the race. Shuttle lines were impossibly long, and the option to walk wherever you need to go will remove some of the helplessness one can feel at the mercy of such a big race and its massive crowds.
- Don't waste your money on a shuttle ride to the race start. (See #1)
- Bring a bag, be it to the expo or Finish Line Festival. This will free up your hands to hold even more free stuff. You'll get lots of it.