RnRVB's race expo was held at the Virginia Beach Area Convention Center. As a result, parking at the expo was a breeze, and because the Convention Center was also the site of the race start, we got a preview of what things would look like on Sunday morning. We arrived at the expo around 2:30, giving us about two and a half hours to wander around before vendors closed up shop the moment the clock struck 5. Our tour of the expo began with packet pickup. Bibs were assigned based on expected finish time, so Justin picked his up from the very empty line #1, while I waited behind a few people to retrieve mine at line #3. From there we proceeded to t-shirt pickup which was organized by shirt size. One of the many things I love about Rock n Roll races is the option to select a women's cut tech shirt. Having learned my lesson in Raleigh, I ordered and picked up a women's size large. Having sweated off a few pounds in his un-air-conditioned mail truck this summer, Justin's men's large was a little too large. Unlike my experience at Raleigh, he was able to exchange his shirt for a different size right there at the expo, rather than wait until race morning to do so.
What made this expo stand out from our previous two RnR expos was the privilege of hearing running greats Jim Ryun and Frank Shorter speak to the crowd. While we lingered hoping for a photo with them, the many other goodies at the expo lured us away, and we found ourselves drinking cups of Emergen-C, tasting free samples of Power Bars, getting free massages, and getting taped up with KT Tape at the Sports Authority booth.
We were still partaking in all the expo had to offer at 5 pm when the lights in the convention center dimmed and race employees began shooing runners out. Fortunately we passed the Emergen-C booth on the way out where vendors were giving away all the drink mix packets we could carry home. We loaded up and I am drinking a glass of Triple Berry as I write this blog.
When we registered for Rock n Roll VA Beach months ago, there were no hotels to be found anywhere along the course. Fortunately, we stayed with a family member who lives in VA Beach. The only thing better than staying in one's own home the night before a race is to stay with a family member who can provide all the comforts of home that a hotel cannot. Uncle Will shuttled us to the starting line on race morning, carried dry clothes for us to change into after both of our race finishes, and most excellently cheered us on for the eternal .1 miles of the race finish. While we were told parking would be extremely limited race morning, and had planned on being dropped off at the start, many local businesses were making a few extra dollars by opening their parking lots to runners. We paid $10 to park at a local law office, which was the biggest bargain of the day.
Anyone registering for this race who is traveling must make sure to book a hotel as early as possible. In fact, over 2,000 runners had already registered for next year's race before the expo closed, and if they're smart they've already booked hotel rooms. The necessity in booking early is threefold: first, there are all the usual conveniences in being near the start and finish (proximity to flushable toilets, change of clothes, cold drinks, etc.) Second, the race is held Labor Day weekend, a huge beach weekend, AND the weekend of the American Music Festival, making parking somewhat limited and expensive. Third, if you can book a hotel along the boardwalk near 5th, you'll be able to enjoy the post-race concert from the comfort of your hotel room balcony (which will be clutch for reasons mentioned later in this blog).
Coming into this race we had some concerns about the weather, with Labor Day in Virginia still being a predictably hot day. Fortunately, the course helped to alleviate some suffering due to the warm weather. First, water stations were well stocked with cold water and Gatorade, and volunteers expertly and generously handed drinks to thirsty runners. Many water stations also had a volunteer manning a garden hose, allowing runners the option of passing under a sprinkler. At mile 9, the Lifeproof Cooling station, a giant inflatable and magical misting station, was wide enough for runners to pass under without breaking stride. About one mile later, an army of volunteers was handing out sponges soaked with cold water. Mine was expertly passed to me by a volunteer who couldn't have been more than ten years old, but handled her job like a pro. One entire neighborhood, dressed in pirate garb, stood along the course cheering and doling out Flavor-ices. At another location a veteran's organization was handing out sliced oranges, while further down the road, multiple neighborhoods offered up Dixie cups of cold beer. Rock-n-Roll apparently offers generous cash awards to neighborhoods that had the best theme and demonstrated the most enthusiasm, energy, and creativity. We have to give credit and thanks to the MANY neighborhoods that took up this challenge and spent their mornings supporting us runners. Lots of credit also goes to Rock-n-Roll for motivating everyone to support us.
Rock-n-Roll also offers a generous prize to local cheer teams, and as a result there were some talented kids cheering runners on, as well. It can't be easy on kids to stand outside in the heat, chant, cheer, and smile all morning long, but bunches of teams were out there, making a hot day a little easier for all us runners.
Also making things a little easier was a course that was almost entirely flat and shady in many areas. The 7 am start time meant we didn't experience much direct sun, but hopefully runners at the back of the pack benefited from the tree lined stretch of course around mile 7.
Things were heating up by the time I crossed the finish line shortly before 9. I was grateful for the cold towel, plucked from a bucket of ice water, which was handed to me moments later. With my finisher medal and cold towel draped around my neck, I proceeded with other runners down the finisher chute, grabbing Power Bars, potato chips, cold water, Gatorade, and a jackpot ice pop, which was just about all I could carry before meeting back up with Justin and Uncle Will. Note to runners of this race: make grabbing multiple cold waters your first priority. Though there was cold beer to be found in the beer tent, there were no cold drinks available outside the finish zone for non-beer drinkers like me. (Unless you had money to buy some from one of the many establishments along the boardwalk.)
RnRVB's post-race party was different from other festivities we've been to simply due to its location: the beach. The family reunion area and beer tent were both located steps off the boardwalk in the sand, and many runners could be found dunking themselves in the refreshing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. We made a beeline for the beer tent where there was both shade, (protecting us from the sun, which was growing stronger with each passing minute) and cold beer (one of which was provided to each runner using the ticket attached to our race bibs). Mistakenly thinking the post-race concert was post-race, we walked a half mile to the giant stage we passed on the home stretch of the race, only to discover that the headliner, Train, would not be playing until later that evening. We slogged our way 10 blocks back to the car and left the beach, heading back to Will's and looking forward to gorging ourselves on pizza, salad, and sandwiches at Y Not Pizza.
Unable to resist the allure of such a big headliner, we returned to the beach around 7 in order to partake in the concert. A word to the wise: if you are a lover of live music (you likely already know this), arrive early and claim you spot in the sand. We made the mistake of arriving at 7, and after being told Train would not be performing until 9, we went out for dinner at The Raven. By the time we returned to the stage for the third time, the only spots available were practically a quarter mile away from the main performance area. We gave up and settled our blanket in the sand. We planned on listening to the music and enjoying being back out on the beach. Unfortunately, the air smelled like we were at a concert inside a smoky bar from 1977, rather than outside in the open air of the Atlantic Coast. We looked enviously up at the hotel guests enjoying the concert from their balconies, free from the cigarette smoke that smothered the beach. After five songs, we retreated from the beach, leaving the smokers and their fun for the cleaner air back at Will's house.
After Saturday's race expo, we drove out to Towne Center, which is a downtown area west of the beach, constructed almost entirely in the last ten years. While there were numerous restaurants to choose from (Macaroni Grill, Keagan's Irish Pub, The Cheesecake Factory, to name a few) we opted to eat at Gordon Biersh. This was our best option as Justin was eager to watch the Georgia-Clemson football game and the bar was populated by a great number of flat screen TV's. We had eaten at a Gordan Biersh after the Myrtle Beach Mini Marathon, where we received great service and an equally as excellent meal. This GB was equally as delightful. The menu options were plentiful (we ordered everything from pasta to tacos to tuna). Our server, Mike, was the best waiter we've ever had. If you go, ask to be seated in his section.
After Sunday's race we ate at the local chain, Y Not Pizza. Like Gordon Biersh, menu options were plentiful and there was something for everyone. We devoured two slices of cheese pizza and felt better about ourselves by also consuming an entire Caesar salad. Calzones, Stromboli, sandwiches, pasta dishes, and a greater variety of salads were all available for order. We didn't feel too horrible about eating here in our running clothes, especially after our waitress asked us about the race.
Rock-n-Roll Virginia Beach is a fun Labor Day weekend event. Run it, enjoy the music, fan support, and beach locale. Know that the warmer weather will slow most runners down, but this doesn't by any means indicate that the race won't be a blast. After all, there were sprinklers, ice pops, and a whole beach to enjoy.
Tips for Running a Successful RnRVB:
1. Be sure you have done an extensive amount of training in the heat.
2. Hydrate well in the days leading up to the race and be prepared to make water stops or carry water/fuel with you.
3. After running 20 half marathons, we saw a race first; a recently finished half marathoner lit up a cigarette near the finisher chute and proceeded to smoke away. While most runners were not smoking, the beach, open to both runners and beach goers, was littered with smokers, as were local restaurants and the post-race concert that evening. Be prepared for cigarette scented air... everywhere.
4. Book your hotel early for reasons mentioned in the Accommodations section above.
For more information about this event visit http://runrocknroll.competitor.com/virginia-beach/event-details.