Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Race Report: Love Rox 10k

This was the first year for the Love Rox Half Marathon & 10k, organized by Richmond Multisports. Basically, Richmond Multisports noticed that there is a dearth of races in Richmond between the Sportsbackers' two signature events - the Richmond Marathon/Half/8k in November and the Ukrop's Monument Avenue 10k in April - so they moved to fill it.

Last year, I participated in the Virginia is for Lovers 14k, which was a fun race, but it is in Virginia Beach. Racing in Virginia Beach required me to get a hotel room and drive a lot (not fun and expensive). When I started hearing rumblings about a Valentine's Day race in  Richmond, I got excited and as soon as the race was announced, I signed up for the 10k option. Marcey signed up too, as race #2 in her "Year of Running."

So, without further ado, I give you the Love Rox 10k race report.

Expo/Packet Pick Up - B-

This was a small race, so there was no Expo - only packet pick up. The window for packet pick up was very narrow: Friday between 3 pm and 7 pm and then morning of. Pre-race emails encouraged folks to pick up on Friday, so that is what I did... and ended up wasting a bunch of time trying to get to the pick up location, 3 Sports, which is in the River Road shopping center.

Anybody who lives in Richmond knows that getting to the River Road shopping center from the Downtown area in the afternoon is a huge pain in the butt. There are multiple schools in the area, not to mention all of the white collar workers streaming down tiny 2-lane Cary Street Road to get to their West End McMansions after a day in the office. Everything gets backed up to a standstill and it is not pleasant.

In an effort to avoid the worst of the traffic, I left work a bit early at 4:30... but still sat through multiple traffic light cycles at the Three Chopt/Cary Street Road intersection. Once I finally got to 3 Sports, actually obtaining our bibs, t shirt, and race bib was relatively painless. The only snag was that after initial registration, race organizers sent out a second email giving folks the option to size down to an XS shirt (not initially available on registration forms). I don't know if they then did not transfer requests or what, but the person handing out race t shirts gave me a small and when I said I had requested an XS, he told me that there was no way to prove it but if I promised that I had done so, I could have an XS.

Uh... I promise?

Race Day Arrival/Parking - B-

The Love Rox website gave this advice on parking:
City of Richmond Parking Map Lots 81-85 are the closest to the start of the race.

Not exactly the most helpful information. Luckily, I know the area well and figured that I would be able to find street parking. Marcey and I arranged to rendezvous at the Downtown Y first. She would park her car there, then jump into mine, and then we would only have to park one car in the vicinity of the race.

I circled the block(s) near the start area a few times before I found a street spot 4 blocks away (free on the weekends - score!). The finish/staging area was at Tredegar Civil War Center, which is down by the river and all of the parking options in the immediate area was blocked off, so we got pretty much as close as we could.

Things worked out well for us because we know Richmond/the area, but if you were from out of town you probably had some trouble with parking. Honestly, if I hadn't lucked out and found the sweet street spot, I'm not sure what deck we would have used or how much it would have cost or if it took credit cards or required cash, etc. It's not knowing things like that that stresses me out when it comes to races, so I'm giving parking a B-.

Our street spot... also showing the rain...
Because it rains/threatens rain, or has just rained on every race that I participate in.

Starting Area - A-

Two words: heated tent.

Marcey and I were reluctant to leave the warm, dry car to go stand around in the cold rain at the start of the race, but when 10 am came, I insisted we head toward the start. Thank goodness that the race organizers had the foresight to rent a large heated tent. Pre-race, the tent wasn't overly crowded, but the smell of the post-race food being prepared made me extremely hungry!

As time passed, more and more runners and spectators started to crowd into the tent. Announcements about start time were easy to hear (they delayed the race by 15 minutes, in hopes of the rain stopping, I guess), but confusing... "The start is on Brown's Island, take the 9th street bridge to get there... wait, just kidding. Scratch that! Half marathoners are running on that bridge and we don't want any problems so everyone take X bridge instead!" Meanwhile, I really don't know which island is Brown's, or which bridge is which either. Our plan was just to follow the others and hope we ended up in the right place.

After quick visits to the port-o-johns, we followed the rest of the sheep and did end up on the right place - Brown's Island. This is also where the Richmond Marathon ended and honestly, I think it's a fabulous staging area for races. It's beautiful and has big wide open spaces, plus great views of the river (allowing for prime photo backdrops).

Being us, M & I took some time screwing around and taking pre-race photos. Although we made it to the right island, it was kind of unclear where the start line was.

We assumed that the start was up there somewhere where the group
was congregating...
We were still clowning around taking silly pictures (we figured we had time to kill)...

Obviously taking photos of me hugging trees is more
important than stretching.

...when all of a sudden we heard the starting gun.

Uh... go?

Course - A

I really really enjoyed this course. The first course that was released closely followed my most favorite running route in Richmond, which includes part of the Canal Walk and the Flood Wall. When the course was amended later on, they dropped the Flood Wall and I have to admit I was pretty unhappy about it.

BUT, the course that we did run on Saturday was filled with interesting sights (and sounds). It had a steady incline and some tough hills in miles 4-6, but I was grateful for the variety, even if my calves weren't. I think that it showed love to some sides of Richmond that are generally neglected: the Canal Walk (all the way to Shockoe Bottom) and the Manchester neighborhood.

The last 1.5 miles were nearly identical to the finish for the Richmond Marathon/Half/8k. When I realized this, all I could think about was the fact that in 9 months, I will be running that same stretch on legs that have gone 24 miles and will almost be finished my first marathon (and probably be in a lot of pain and wishing I was dead).

Some photos from along the way:

Along the Canal Walk, under the railroad bridge in Shockoe Bottom

A train rolled by while we were running alongside the railroad bridge -
some runners made the "please honk your horn" motion with their arms
and the engineer totally did. It was awesome.

Richmond skyline from the Robert E. Lee bridge
(and my thumb)

The route, downloaded from my Garmin

The Good

  • Lovely start on Brown's Island.
  • Extremely scenic - I enjoyed every minute and got to run in some new areas of Richmond that I hadn't previously been to.
  • Challenging, but not too  challenging. It started flat and hills picked up in the Manchester area (south of the river. Although I love a super flat course, it was good to push myself.
  • Good downhill finish.
  • Volunteers were there to flag all along the 10k course, though I heard that some half marathon runners got misdirected and ended up off course (and accidentally cutting the race short by 1.5 miles).
  • A few water and gatorade stops, which I didn't really count because I didn't partake of any.
The Eh
  • Though I love starting on Brown's, heading to the extremely narrow Canal Walk for the first part of the race was not the best. It's a narrow sidewalk and includes stairs and ramps - not exactly great when you're jostling for position with the hundreds of other runners that have not thinned out yet. 
  • Last mile included an extremely steep hill on Canal Street - very difficult and painful to try to put on the brakes there at the end of the race.
  • My #1 complaint: there was a surprise section of cobblestones right before the finish line, as you are running full speed toward the finish. More on that below.
The Finish - C

I was loving the downhill aspect of the finish. I knew I was booking it and as I rounded the corner of 5th street to head toward the line, I heard someone yell my name. It was my running buddy Greg, who had come to see the finish (he didn't run that day). After I yelled a return greeting, he ran alongside me and started yelling at me to watch out for the cobbles.

Thank GOD he had scoped that out before I got there and was able to warn me. At that point, all I could see was the Finish line and didn't even notice the stones. I was running like a bat out of hell (5:30 pace), my shoe lace was untied, it was raining/snowing, and I have a screwed up foot that doesn't react well to uneven surfaces. I could have really  injured myself (or someone else, if I took a spill). As it was, I put on the brakes through the cobbled area then was unable to regain my momentum.

After I had finished, Greg and I both went back up ahead of the cobbled area and yelled warnings to the runners who were coming as the snow was really coming down and the uneven cobbles were getting more slippery by the second. 

Next year, I really hope that the organizers move the finish line up and make a tiny change somewhere else along the route. It would be extremely simple because really, it was maybe 50-75 yards from the finish line.

Marcey takes on the cobbles.

After coming through the finish arch, I was immediately (and kind of unceremoniously) handed a medal and then moved out of the way as fast as I could. I'm glad we got medals because this was another miscommunication by the race organizers - the website said that all finishers (half and 10k) would receive a race medal. Three days before the race, an email went out stating that the information had been in error and that only half marathon finishers would receive medals. 

This made me pretty unhappy. No, medals aren't the reason I race (ok, they might be a tiny reason), but I like to get them. Especially when I am under the impression that I will be receiving one!

Two days before the race, a second email comes out that tells us that actually, 10k finishers will receive medals after all.

Anyhow, I got my medal and Greg took some photos for me. I was feeling pretty high - I had just PR'd on a challenging course, running my first 10k since the break!

The water station was some large water coolers and small cups in the plaza outside of the heated tent. It was very easy to miss and honestly, I thought pretty inadequate. Luckily I was too cold and wet to be thirsty (even though I should have gotten some water anyway), so I bypassed it and headed right into the heated tent. 

Race organizers sent a follow up email that stated that they would rethink the water station next year, citing the intention of being "green" and avoiding the use of plastic water bottles as the reason for the small water cups and coolers. Listen, I am a pretty green person and I'm all about environmental friendly methods, but tiny dixie cups for half marathoners and 10k runners is not cool. You'd have to fill up the thing 100 times to get the amount of water that you needed. Just get the bottles and set up plenty of recycling containers in the finish area. That will serve everyone better in the long run and fulfill the green initiative of the race organizers.

Post-race refreshments included the usual bananas and bagels, but what I really made a b-line for was the hot chili. It was absolutely delicious. There was also a cash bar offering various mixed drinks but I wasn't interested. Call me crazy, but I just don't want to drink alcohol after just finishing a race.

After obtaining hot chili, I went back out to wait for Marcey, who finished in 1:10:17. I thought it was an awesome time considering the course and the fact that she was running a race in the cold/snow for the first time ever!

Marcey, you just kicked butt!

Overall Grade - B+

This being an inaugural race, I have to say that overall it was a great experience. The course was especially wonderful (minus the cobbles). With a few refinements, this will be a solid "A" race, no doubt. Both Marcey and I really appreciated the heated tent, the post race food was excellent, the later start time (I'm no fan of early mornings), and the start/finish location was also nice.

The organizers have already sent a follow up email addressing some of the concerns that I and other runners had, which I thought was very impressive. It shows they are listening and want feed back, both positive and negative. My main bones of contention were the cobbles and the packet pick up, which was in a pretty inconvenient location and limited. Changing over to water bottles at the end would also be nice.

Personal Performance - A+

Now for the biggest news of the race: not only did I PR with a 51:11 on a course far more challenging than the one I set my previous PR on ( 53:22 at last year's Monument Avenue 10k), I placed third in my age group! Don't ask me how many people were in my age group (probably 20), but I'm still thrilled.

I never hang around for awards and was well into my Proper Pie when I got a text from Greg telling me that I won something. I thought he was joking me, but he wasn't. I got third. Holy cow.

Also noteworthy is that 7:29 minute mile - my fastest ever during a race. I'm pretty impressed with that, especially considering it included a gnarly uphill climb on Canal Street and then the painful downhill.

And my race photo actually turned out ok:

Truly, I'm thrilled with how this race went. I certainly never expected to PR considering the weather and the hills and my foot, which is ultra sensitive to cold now and was numb/achy for the first few miles.My success here really got my confidence up about the Shamrock Half, which is now less than a month away!


  1. Awesome job! Wish I could run that fast. I saw this race in an email I think about a week before it but obviously am not running right now. Don't you love how unorganized inaugural races are? Hopefully next year will be better, I might try it out. Oh and I totally have that white LuLu jacket :-) Great job!

    1. Thanks Tori! You will definitely need to check it out next year once the little one is here.

      Haha yes... I loved this jacket but didn't buy it at first... then my BFF and Lulu pusher was in a store in the dirty Jersey and found one on the sale rack. She sent me copious photo texts and insisted that she HAD to pick it up for me and eventually I gave in.