Rock 'n' Roll Savannah Half Marathon Race Report (aka Why I'll Never Run a Rock 'n' Roll Event Again)

Seriously, y’all, I had heard that these huge events, in particular the Rock ‘n’ Roll branded ones, were kind of awful, but you never really know until you live it. As much as I love the city of Savannah, I don’t think they were ready for what to expect by bringing in some 23,000 runners (plus about double that number of spectators/family/friends) into their city for the weekend. The race was one big traffic jam after another, from getting to the expo to getting to the start line to running the course to getting back to the hotel. Incredible, incredible nonsense.

There's only one thing left to do. 

Rural Georgia HighwayBut let’s back up. B and I were trained and ready to go. There was only one thing left to do: get to the race. We left town on Friday morning, driving through the pretty country roads of rural Georgia, and made it to Savannah by about 4:00 PM Eastern time, in plenty of time, we thought, to get into the expo, check in and pick up our race bibs and timing chips, mill about and shop, and then go to dinner. We did not make it to our hotel until after 9:00, thanks to being stuck for about an hour on the Talmadge bridge, the only way to the little island where the expo was being held.

Bridge, SavannahWe were so frustrated with the traffic that we eventually decided to take turns going in — she drove in the traffic jam while I got out and walked in to the expo, then we’d switch (luckily we were able to meet up in there because she finally got parking). Needless to day, we did not have the time or energy or desire to spend a single dime inside the race expo.

Afterward, we faced more traffic jams around the hotel/mall part of town where we were staying, and were quoted an hour and fifteen minute wait at the restaurant. We ate at the bar instead of waiting for a proper table; we were so exhausted by this point.

The next morning, we headed to the mall parking lot at 6:00 AM to catch a shuttle to the start. Everyone whose hotel didn’t have its own race shuttle was there, too — thousands and thousands of runners in disorganized “lines” trying to catch a shuttle. It was 45 degrees, still dark, and eventually anarchy erupted as people began forming new lines to catch the busses as they pulled into the lots, diverting the busses before they could get to those of us waiting in the pre-existing “official” lines. We finally got on a shuttle at about 7:15 AM, just fifteen minutes before the race was set to begin.

By the time our bus got into town, the race had already begun, which meant most downtown roads were closed. Most bus drivers, brought in for the event from Florida, didn’t know their way around the city, and we could hear dispatch on the radio talking to one frantic driver, who said “I’ve got five busses following behind me and there are dozens more picking up runners at the mall. I don’t care if the roads are blocked, we have to get these runners to the start!” Apparently, busses taking in runners from Tybee island got lost along the way, too. It was chaos.

We got to the start after 8:00 AM, and were able to high-tail it over there in time to start with corral 25. We were supposed to be in corral 5. There would be no running with the 2:00 pace team, as they were long gone by now. We had completely missed all the runners who would be going at our predicted pace; instead we were with the walkers (and the other late arrivals from the mall shuttle busses).

The entire race was one big traffic jam. I never was able to run at my desired pace, instead having to weave my way through and around groups of people. The road was packed shoulder-to-shoulder, and there were countless groups of walkers and run/walkers going four or five abreast across the road, often slowing to a walk with no advance warning and completely oblivious to anyone trying to pass by them. I spent a lot of time running in the grass and on the sidewalk in my efforts to squeak by. I was miserable.

The first six miles took us through some ugly, industrial part of town that smelled like rancid fish (my description) or a bad perm (B’s description). It was inescapable. There were no spectators here, just the wall of flesh and smell.

At some point around the 10K mark, I managed to free myself of the concern for pace and time, and I just told myself I would run as well as I was able and just finish the damned race. I was envisioning a finish time around 2:20 at this point, far from my goal of somewhere between 2:00-2:07. I wasn’t in control of my pace, so why worry about it?

Around mile 7 or so we cut back into the historic district — the pretty part of Savannah with old lovely houses and live oaks and Spanish moss. The only part I really know. Here there were TONS of great spectators. I collected more than my fair share of high-fives from the folks on the left side of the road, enjoyed the signs, and appreciated the surroundings. My mood really lightened up here and it was a relief.

After this I just kept trucking on ahead, thinking that at least if I was running at my normal slow-run training pace (9:30-9:45) instead of my goal race pace (9:09), maybe I wouldn’t be sore the next day. Silver lining, maybe. Around mile 10 my hip flexors and IT bands were getting a bit tight and sore — normally I’d take a stretch break on a training run if I felt tight like this, but that day I just wanted to be done.

At mile 11 I finally braved looking at my watch again, did some quick math, and figured out I could come close to my PR of 2:07:07, possibly beating it, if I kicked it into gear for the last two miles, which is what I tried to do. It was still really tough to make my way through the crowd. The half marathoners were kept to the right lane at this point, leaving the left lane for full marathoners whose mile 25-26 overlapped with our mile 12-13 of the course (the 2:45-3:00 marathon finishers, who started at 7:30 in the first corrals, would be coming up at this point, and fast as hell). I occasionally snuck just to the left of the cones to try to pass people, but I stayed out of the way of the speedy full marathoners and their bike escorts.

At one point, two women running in front of me came to a walk, and one threw out her arm to look at her watch, her elbow right in my face. As I nearly crashed right through them, I was so aggravated I literally made a loud, high-pitched “beep beep” sound, which I hope startled the shit out of Elbow Lady. Race etiquette was just not to be seen out there on Saturday.

At any rate, I managed to find my way through the crowd in the last few miles and I saw as I approached the finish line that I could eke out a PR of at least a few seconds. I tried to compose my face for a pleasant finish line photo, and then this happened:

Finish Line Part IFinish Line Part IIOh no she didn’t? OH YES SHE DID. This zebra/pink-mowhawk hat lady just busted right in between me and grey-shirt mom on my right there and practically pushed us down for her moment of finish line glory. Can you tell how effing appalled I was by my expression in the second photo? I hope you can.

My overall impression of the race was one of overcrowding and mishandling. This was the Savannah race’s inaugural year, and I know the city to be a lovely place. I know from what I read in their news coverage that they were really excited about the race and about bringing people into the city. The problem was that it was impossible to enjoy the city the night before (due to overcrowding, traffic, and just sheer frustration and exhaustion), and I don’t think a lot of people stuck around to see Savannah after the race, judging by how empty the historic district was that night. The race didn’t even really showcase the best parts of the city, going mostly through ugly industrial areas and random neighborhoods. The “pretty” part of town was only on display for a mile or two of the half marathon route, which surprised me.

Happy finisherAt any rate, I met up with B at the finish line, we both celebrated our new PRs (even though we both missed our more ambitous targets, we still both improved, which is what counts), and got in the miles-long line for shuttles back to the mall.

Shuttle line in the park. Live oaks.Oh right. Yes, more waiting, more traffic. At least we got to wait in front of the famous Forsyth Park fountain, and then we caught a Savannah city trolley, driven by a local tour guide, instead of a school bus.

Trolley back to our car.And really, all’s well that ends well. We celebrated with champagne and candy and then got dressed for a fun night. The historic district was quiet when we went out, we had no trouble getting seated at the restaurant of our choice, and then treated ourselves to fun cocktails and frozen yogurt afterward.

Recovery food of champions. 

Mussaman curry. Pretty AND delicious. 

Cocktail LightsI may not have reached my more ambitious time goals, even though I think I’d have had a chance to if I’d started in the proper corral and/or found the 2:00 pace group. I DID, nonetheless, meet my non-time based goals: no injury, a wacky pedicure, champagne, a fun night on the town, and some quality time with my friend.

Final time: 2:06:30 – a whopping 37-second personal record.

As for what’s next? We are picking our next half marathon race, and this one’s gonna be small.

9 thoughts on “Rock 'n' Roll Savannah Half Marathon Race Report (aka Why I'll Never Run a Rock 'n' Roll Event Again)

  1. Kandi November 7, 2011 / 4:14 pm

    Sounds like a rough race experience. I heard on twitter that the expo traffic was horrible. Glad you were at least able to get your bibs! Way to PR despite the issues. I ran the same half marathon two years in a row (my only two to date) and PRed by 2 seconds this year. Lol

    • KO November 7, 2011 / 4:54 pm

      Thanks! I will take a PR of any amount šŸ™‚ Hopefully I’ll be able to test my speed a little more in my next race!

  2. Kristen November 7, 2011 / 5:07 pm

    I’m not actually sure how big/small it is, but the 5 Points of Life Marathon and Half are in Gainesville in February. And I know how to get around here — I’ll totally get you to the start line, and make sure you get good food while you’re here! Doooo iiiiiit.

    (Not really thinking I’ll probably do it, but I’m thinking about volunteering for it, or at least being a spectator.)

    • KO November 7, 2011 / 5:17 pm

      I will definitely look into that! We might be going for something closer, though, depending on spring semester scheduled/travel. But I think February might be the best time to do a race in Florida šŸ™‚

  3. Chrissy (The New Me) November 8, 2011 / 7:11 am

    I’ve never done an RNR race, but this makes me grateful for the smaller races I HAVE done. Sorry you had such a frustrating experience – it seems like you could have definitely run a sub-two hour half if the race had been less crowded/better organized. Soon!
    At any rate, a PR is a PR and you should be proud! Great race!

    • KO November 11, 2011 / 4:23 pm

      Thanks! I am proud of finishing and staying at least close enough to my previous time to make the PR happen at the last minute! Definitely looking for another chance to get closer to two hours, though!

  4. Rose-Anne November 13, 2011 / 7:17 pm

    Congrats on the new PR, Kate! I think you should be proud of yourself for persevering in a race that wasn’t optimal. I’m sorry to hear how badly the race was organized–it sounds like a PR-seeking runner’s nightmare. But next time, oh yes, next time I think there will be a new and even better PR. Fingers crossed for you šŸ™‚

    • KO November 13, 2011 / 10:34 pm

      Thanks! It’s making me belatedly much more appreciative of the smaller races I’ve done in the past. AND very much looking forward to the next one.

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