All runners were required to attend the race expo at the Raleigh Convention Center in order to pick up their race bibs, t-shirts, and swag bags. Rock-n-Roll is strict about packet pick-up, which is not available on race day. Rock-n-Roll runners must also pick up their own packets; no one else may pick up for them. Fortunately, RnR has some of the best expos around, and we were not disappointed at this one. We were greeted at the expo’s entrance by two charming balloon sculptures, one of a guitar and one of a runner, both in keeping with the Rock-n-Roll marathon theme.
In spite of registering for Raleigh on opening day, we (in true Bullard fashion) neglected to book a hotel until one month before race day. As a result, we couldn’t score a room at the coveted Sheraton Raleigh Convention Center Hotel, which would have allowed us to practically roll out of bed on race morning and right onto the finish line. The closest we could get to the race start was 3.9 miles away at the Hampton Inn in Garner. We got lucky with this hotel: it was literally a straight shot from our downtown parking garage to the hotel. Even better, the hotel staff really catered to runners: they gladly extended checkout by 2 hours, allowing us to enjoy Rock-n-Roll’s post-race party without having to rush back to check out at 11 am. Additionally, they extended their continental breakfast hours on race morning by opening at 4:30 am. Justin picked up two of Hampton’s pre-packed to-go lunches made just for runners. Hampton’s rooms were clean and comfortable, so we slept well on the night before the race, especially after doing some carb-loading at the hotel-recommended restaurant, Ragazzi’s.
After receiving propaganda in various forms about anticipated race morning traffic, we departed from the Hampton at 5:50 am, enabling us to arrive downtown by the time race organizers recommended: 6 am. (Rumor has it that runners staying outside the city and off of I-40 fought traffic to arrive on time.) As we normally like to roll into a race about 10 minutes before a race’s start time, 1 hour gave us plenty of time to line up for a restroom break at one of the many port-a-lets lining downtown Raleigh’s streets. I was also able to exchange my tiny size medium t-shirt for a women’s large, which fit perfectly (note to possible women registering for a RnR race: order one size up in t-shirts).
British announcer was right: the RnR course was one rolling hill after another. Apparently, even though Justin and I live in one of the flattest places in the country, our one-day-a-week hill training on the Cooper River Bridge is working. We both ran well enough to enjoy a course that was even more scenic than we expected. With thousands of runners, it is nearly impossible to make a wrong turn, but regardless, volunteers or police officers were stationed at the numerous intersections throughout downtown. Aid stations were located approximately every two miles, while a band appeared every one mile. Dozens of volunteers wearing leis and grass hula skirts were enthusiastically distributing water and Gatorade at mile 6, and for a while I thought that they were also trying to energize runners by blasting “The Final Countdown.” Based on this race, I can only conclude that not many of the bands in Raleigh contain runners. (Or those that do were probably running the race!) While I enjoyed the entertainment every mile, I needed to hear anthems like “Eye of the Tiger” from the Rocky movies and “Danger Zone” from Top Gun to get me over those hills, but the bands continued to play songs of a slower tempo. Fortunately, I had my iPhone set up with an inspiration playlist, which I later realized was the reason I had been hearing “The Final Countdown” (or maybe hill delirium was beginning to set in).
Everywhere we stopped before heading for home, we were congratulated by Raleigh’s very hospitable residents. Everyone from the wait staff at Tripp’s (where we stopped for lunch) to the hotel staff at the Hampton seemed excited about having the race in town.
Final Verdict: Rock-n-Roll Marathon organizers and the city of Raleigh know how to host a great race. The event was well-organized and everyone we encountered was friendly and welcoming. If you want to run a race where a city rolls out the red carpet for you, this is it!
Tips for a Successful Rock-n-Roll Raleigh:
1. We advise this based on rumor only: don’t stay at a hotel that requires you to get on I-40. Apparently there was traffic and some difficulty getting to the race. Book the Sheraton Raleigh Convention Center early, if you want to be able to wake up mere minutes before the race. We enjoyed our stay at the Hampton Inn in Garner, which was an easy drive in, and easy on the wallet!
2. Don’t plan on staying at the race expo past closing time. Vendors close up shop immediately!
3. If you live in a flat place like Charleston, train for hills. For most people, this race wouldn't be considered mountainous, but for anyone not used to the slightest hill, be ready for them!
For more information on this race visit http://runrocknroll.competitor.com/raleigh.