2015 San Antonio Rock 'N' Roll Marathon

For my first-ever marathon, I decided it would be best and economical to stay close to home. As the San Antonio course is rather flat, it also came recommended from my more experienced running buddies as a good first-timer course.  So back in September, I made the auspicious decision to register.

Before this, my only experience with a “big name” event had been runDisney.  Now, I love their events, and plan on returning, but participating is a rather steep financial commitment.   Rock ’N’ Roll registration is about half that of a runDisney event — I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The good news is that, overall, Rock ’n’ Roll met my expectations.

The website was adequately informative an registration was a snap.  Then… not a whole lot until about two weeks prior to the event.  Leading to the event, we got several emails with information on the expo, hotels, restaurants, parking and road closures. The information was complete and left no questions — even for a Rock ’n’ Roll novice like me.

I also knew that parking and traffic at the marathon start can be challenging so I took advantage of the numerous hotels in downtown San Antonio (about 14,000 rooms in downtown) and grabbed a room at the Grand Hyatt. Several of the downtown hotels are within a mile of the start / finish area at the Alamodome parking lot. 

I hit the packet pickup and expo on Friday, as recommended by Rock ’n’ Roll, and beat the Saturday crowds.  Packet pickup was a cinch and I headed to the Expo.  The Expo had the usual collection of vendors, but the Brooks area was particularly well-done.  In addition to their products, you could try your luck at some games of skill and undergo video gait analysis in their beach-themed demonstration area.

The rest of the expo had a good mixture of running shops and product vendors. I stopped by the Powerbar area to sample their new chews and the Nuun booth where they had about 8 of their quite delicious flavors for sample.  I grabbed two tubes of Nuun and got a free bottle.  Funny thing about their water bottles — I love them!   They’re durable and completely free of that plastic-y taste and smell from the get go.  

I headed around the corner and stopped by the SPIBelt display where they were showing their new H2O Venture Belt.  This impressive looking belt features a two inch waistband and two 8oz bottles, very similar to their 6oz bottles I reviewed a few weeks ago.  Then off to home to pack for our stay the next night.

The night before the Marathon, my wife and I stayed at the Grand Hyatt and enjoyed a small dinner downstairs at Ruth’s Chris.  At the bar, they had a pasta bar running for the carbo-loaders.  The next morning we got up and made the short, 3/4 mile, walk to the start area in the Alamodome parking lot.  The critically important port-a-potties were in abundant supply and arranged in little open cubicles so that the lines had a clear delineation of which portable commode served each line.  The lines moved quickly.  There was water and fruit available.  I wished my wife good luck and she headed to her start corral.  The 5K, half and full marathons all started together and shared the same course, with the shorter races peeling off the main course.  Seemed well organized.  Except the corrals.  

The corrals were well-labeled, but no one seemed to be paying attention.  I was corral 15, and at least half the people around me were from corrals in the 20s and 30s.  Now, I’m not an elitist, but when the run starts and a quarter of your corral just walks, it’s annoying.  There was music and a great announcer, but surprisingly the volume of the speakers was too low and the PA system was a bit difficult to hear.  Perhaps because we were near a residential neighborhood?

Meb Keflezighi, the legendary marathoner, was the grand marshal for the event and was at the start line, posing for selfies and shaking hands.  Very accessible.  Very cool.  With a quick honk of the air horn, our corral was off.  We headed up Cherry Street and turned in towards downtown.  Rather quickly, we passed the Alamo and wound through downtown toward the Pearl Brewery and the 5K finish line.  Along the route were lots of enthusiastic spectators and the bands were cranking out motivating tunes.  The weather at the start was very pleasant, 45 degrees, cloudless skies, light breeze.

After the Pearl, we headed north toward the San Antonio Zoo and then up the hill entering the Trinity University Campus.  Trinity was out in force — several student organizations lined the route cheering us on.  Afterwards we wound through the bucolic Monte Vista neighborhood where the residents made something of a party.  As the roads to their houses were closed and they really couldn’t leave, many chose to have breakfast parties with their neighbors while they cheered us on.

Turning south, we headed back to downtown and passed City Hall and the Cathedral.  After winding through the King William district and all the old houses built by German immigrants in the early 20th Century.  Shortly afterwards, the half marathon split off and the crowd thinned considerably.  Up to this point, the run had been a well-supported, rowdy, noisy affair. That changed somewhat after we split up and the marathoners started their long slog south.  In addition to the number of runners dropping appreciably, the crowds thinned almost immediately.  The course became quiet, serene.  Boring.  Don’t get me wrong, the organizers did a great job getting bands and water / aid stations out on the course for the entire duration.  However, the first half of the marathon passes through the most iconic historical and cultural areas of the city.  The second half, however mostly passes through industrial areas and parks.  Yes, you do actually run past two missions. Yes those missions are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  But you don’t really see them as they are actually National Parks and I’m guessing we weren’t permitted to run in front of them.  We finally turned around at mile 19.  

My other quibble was the entertainment:  I seemed to pass most of the stages during the second half of the race when they were swapping out bands.  So I didn’t see any acts for a while. After the turn around, we caught a glimpse of downtown — it seemed so close, but we still had 6 miles to go.  The course follows the Mission Reach of the San Antonio Riverwalk.  We ran along the 8 foot wide concrete sidewalk in the warm (70 degree) mid-day sun.  My feet started to ache. The course was pretty dull.  Not much to look at and, while we have a few hardy enthusiasts, the spectators were largely absent.  I really underestimated how motivating all the excitement on the first half had been.  This really is a marathon of two contrasting environments. 

I plodded homeward and exited the Riverwalk near where we split from the half marathon and spent the last three miles winding through some neighborhoods before turning onto Cherry Street and into the finish.  The crowds were still there, even five hours after the run started.  I crossed the line, grabbed a cold bottle of water and chocolate milk and my medal and entered the exit chute.  I’m generally not picky, but I was surprised by the lack of food in the finish chute.  Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by runDisney, but a cup of canned pears was a little underwhelming.  I found the “finish village” to be rather sparse and thin on amenities.

I was eligible for a finisher’s jacket and finally found the tent tucked in a corner, well removed from the finish line.  I figured they would have located that closer to the finish.  I headed back to my hotel and eventually home.

Overall, the San Antonio Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon was a pleasant event.  It was well run, well marked, well supported and lots of fun.  However, as a six-year San Antonio resident, I can’t help but think there are better options for the course.  The run along the Riverwalk is not much fun — something many of my fellow runners noted.  Will I run it again?  Probably. Once I’m less sore.

Were you there?  Any thoughts?  Leave them below in comments!