As I am sure will be voiced in the near future, I am not a big fan of for-profit runs (especially those of the themed variety -- just not my bag). This is for a variety of reasons beyond the obvious, but I have long-longed to participate in one of the many Rock'n'Roll Marathon Series' events offered by Competitor Group. Given the recent move of a close friend to Texas, and Dallas' only 8-or-so-hour drive from the KC area, the Rock'n'Roll Dallas Half-Marathon seemed like the perfect opportunity to lose my R'n'R virginity. I had an absolute blast at the Wadell & Reed Kansas City Half-Marathon in October, so as quickly as the following December, I found myself registering for Dallas.
A Quick Stroll of Dallas
Dallas is an easily-dismissed town for a variety of reasons: be it objectivity to Texas culture, large trucks, or any Dallas-based sports team, the city is often overlooked in favor of other Texan options such as San Antonio or Austin. Truth is, Dallas is your model metropolis, spotted with cultural nuances that make it just interesting enough to consider a destination spot.
Beyond it's sprawling downtown (and sister-city Fort Worth's downtown), Dallas is a surprising hotbed of
the arts. During my first full day in Dallas, I visited a number of metropolitan locations -- quite a few that weren't museums -- that boasted works from regional, national and internationally-renown sculpture, pain, mixed-media, photography, and glasswork artists, among others. For instance the North Park mall, one of Dallas' many high-end shopping meccas, proudly displays hundreds of works adorning its walls, itself even a registered national art museum.
Even its skyline brags artistic ability, from the classic Reunion tower, to the Ross Perot Museum of Nature and Science, the Bank of America Plaza, and of course the twisted and turned Fountain Place -- all wonderfully lit on sunset. And then the history, the obvious being Dealey Plaza and Fifth Story
Window at the old Dallas Schools' Book Depository, now a administrative building for the city of Dallas. But then there's Old Red, Dallas' first courthouse, wonderfully preserved in the center of downtown, and sharing block space with the John F. Kennedy Memorial, and Founder's House, a log cabin belonging to one of the original founders of the city of Dallas. And the Fair Park, location of our Half-Marathon finish, and home to Cotton Bowl Stadium, the famous Texas State Fair, and the historic Centennial Exposition Buildings.
The Rock 'n' Roll Expo
Day two of Dallas included the Rock'n'Roll Half-Marathon Expo, including packet pick-up, and the always-anticipated free goodies that accompanied. The expo was held at the Dallas Convention Center, just one short block from our half-marathon's start line on Young Street. As I walked in to the exhibit hall, it was obvious the intent was to make all participants feel like rock stars: the red carpet was laid out, the stage scaffolding was set up all around, concert-style lighting showed the way, and Aerosmith was yelling "Walk this Way" over the loudspeakers (I would later realize the fact that this song was playing over loudspeaker, as I was "walking that way," was coincidence -- they rotated through a stack of pre-set songs at the entrance, very few having to do with walking a particularly way).
Step one on the red carpet was packet pick-up. Like most events this size, a necessary pre-requisite was to have a print-out with your name and bib number (which was emailed a couple of weeks prior, and re-emailed one week prior) to make the process smoother, particularly considering all ten-thousand-or-so packets were divided in to several groups of 500. However, just in case, they had volunteers set up to print off a bib-number receipt for you, which is a nice option that organizers rarely make available, expecting you to instead frustratingly rifle through emails on a smartphone to use as evidence of your registration. And, of course, also like events of this size, no picking up packets for others. This was emphasized on the website, prior to registration online, in both confirmation emails, and both bib-number emails, as well as in the final participant guide that was sent out a week or so prior to the expo. But, not surprisingly, I still managed to get stuck in line behind the one ignoramus that "never got that email" and "didn't get that message on my computer." Ignorance aside, from check-in, to packet pick-up, to t-shirt pick-up took about 60 seconds. Far from the expo bum-rush that serves as one of my pet-peeves on race weekend.
From packet pick-up, I grabbed my shirt and, alongside my raceday compatriots, field through the maze of merchandise and advertisements towards the real reason we go to expos: the free goodies. Dead-set on not spending any money within the merchandise section, I failed and bought a pin for my backpack anyways. In the actual "expo" part of the expo, by far the most impressive set-up was Brooks' "Run Happy" showcase. Not only did you get the shoe store, but long were lines for a free gait analysis via what seemed like fairly accurate measurement tech, and, yes, even a mechanical bull ride -- a top a Brooks running shoe, of course (this is, after all, Texas). Despite temptation, and begging the compatriots to "do it with me!", I had to pass. The lines were just too long, and my feet were hurting. Time to rest for race day. Myself and the compatriots would proceed back to the hotel, eat pizza, watch a movie, and discuss our bowel plans over the next 12 hours.
Rock'n'Roll Dallas: The Course
There's a surprisingly mixed reaction to A-to-B races. Some like the varied scenery, the possibility of a route with "negative altitude," and the bus rides to and from start/finish. Others despise the earlier wake-up times, the difficult parking situations, the possibility of a route with "positive altitude," and the bus rides to and from start/finish. R'n'R Dallas would start from the heart of downtown Dallas at Young street, one block straight north from the Dallas Convention Center and Pioneer Park.
I mapped the route using MapMyRun, and analyzed the various reported course profiles using TrainingPeaks (my preferred activity logging program) and Google Earth (my preferred mapping program). The course itself showed a total of just over 600 feet in climbing over the
whole 13.1 miles (although it actually mapped out to be over 13.3). The entire first half of the course was uphill through about 8 miles, then a slow downhill back to the finish. It would be absolutely essential to not push the pace for the first half on race morning. Though uphill through the 8-mile mark, I was sure it wouldn't be immediately obvious, though still punishing on the legs. Competitive runners would bide their time, come to the 15k mark with fresh legs, and bomb the final 4 miles to the finish line in Fair Park.
The course would start from Young street and run straight towards Dallas' Reunion Tower, one of the more recognizable landmarks of Dallas' city skyline. I jumped in to Corral #4. I would've estimated about 1500 to 2000 participants in front of me. The start line included live music by who-knows-whom in true Rock'n'Roll fashion, Reunion Tower looming over the banners.
Corrals took off in waves every two minutes, with corral #1 starting at exactly 8am, meaning my start time was a good six minutes after the first gun. At almost exactly 8:06, I was off down Young Street. At the base of the Reunion Tower, we turned right, heading north past Old Red, and then immediately a left down west through Dealey Plaza, including steps over the exact location of JFK's assassination. Nearing the white painted "X" on the blacktop of the assassination site, I took off my headphones -- runners were shockingly quiet, with the first miles of a half-marathon generally the loudest, almost out of respect for the fallen.
Rounding I-35E back east and then back north towards Oak Lawn I checked my watch for pace: 8:06! I had half-expected just short of 9:00, given my perceived effort. I decided to give it a legitimate shot to target this new pace (prior, I'd simply planned to PR, which was 8:46 from 2013's KC Half). Then, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A runner insisted that I'd dropped my car key a while back. I felt the pocket where the key had been, and just as my stomach started to drop, another runner approached me, key in hand. I showered him with thanks, and he sped off. A quick recount, and I wanted to pretend, at least the rest of the way, that that never happened (I was successful).
The only climb (beyond the entire course itself) came in at about the 2-mile marker, as we were passing the Perot Museum of Nature and Science on our way in to Oak Lawn. Though a relatively steep climb, it was early enough that little momentum was lost. The descent down from the first climb would be the only descent we'd see for another 6 miles.
We continued up Cedar Springs Road to Turtle Creek Boulevard. Following Turtle Creek to our right, mansions and upscale condominiums started appearing to our left. As Turtle Creek turned to Lakeside Drive, the mansions got larger and the condominiums disappeared. We had entered the very swank Highland Park. Turning east at the Highland Park Country Club on Beverly, my legs started to tire. The slow ascent north began to take its toll. My pace peaked at 8:25, still a large margin under my previous PR. I knew the drop down towards Fair Park was nearing around the 8 mile mark, so decided to push the pace the best I could. Mile 7 ended up an improved 8:11, immediately followed by an 8:28 mile 8 as we crested our climb, 200 feet higher than the base six miles ago.
Then came the drop. We turned south on Skillman through Lakewood Heights, a long 2 miles before another slight right on to Swiss Avenue. The mansions had quickly disappeared, but that was no longer my focus. Still coming down climb #2, I could see downtown in the distance. With naivete in-hand, it encouraged another push. 8:02, 7:49 through miles 9 and 10.
Then, the wall. 8:10 11th mile. The next three miles would be painful, but I'd accounted for that. I took on as much Gatorade as my stomach would handle, then pushed onward. 8:04 12th mile. Now I was less than two kilometers from the finish. just over one mile. I found a fellow runner that, luckily, was pushing the pace just beyond what I was. I latched on to his wheel and rode down towards Fair Park, crossing the train tracks, and then in to the park. 7:38! Enouraged, I pushed the final distance, what I knew from mapping the route previous to actually be closer to a quarter mile. Cruel.
My final 0.33 miles ran a 7:21. 1:48:05. Finished. And in PR pace by an enormous margin: 8:06 compared to my previous 8:46. For an early-season half, and only 5 months out from my last half, that was impressive. My knee ached only a little, surprisingly, though the post-run leg cramps were severe enough to divert attention.
I grabbed a chocolate milk, found the VIP tent, changed, and waited for my fellow finishers, two of them first-time half-marathoners. Maybe the half-marathon would be my new distance? I would soon find out, as I'd signed up for the Heartland 39.3, a string of three half-marathons over 5 weeks. But for now, a weekend well-raced.
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