Rock n’ Running in Los Angeles

Will Ferrell did it in just over 2 hours, the winner, Fernando Cabada, in 1 hour 4 minutes 56 seconds and I was somewhere in between in the Los Angeles Rock n’ Roll (RnR) Half Marathon, aptly themed as the Halloween Half Marathon because of the date in late October.

12,000 runners turned out, many of them in costumes. I spotted 2 guys disguised as superman, several wonderwomen, a guy in a tuxedo running costume and lots of people wearing props here and there. They conquered the course in downtown LA that took the runners from the start line at Staples Center down south around the Coliseum back up to the starting area.

Through the 111 year old 3rd Street Tunnel, which turned out to be the highlight of the course for me, the course turned west with the turnaround point on top of the Sixth Street Viaduct and making its way back to the start line.

The concept of having any sort of running event in LA is especially peculiar, since LA is probably the most car-dominated city in the US, where public transport exists (no really, it does, but inadequately so) but people just go everywhere by car. Despite this car-craziness, one must not forget though the fitness culture, or rather the quest for visual beauty, in the City of Angels. And it does provide indeed quite some options to satisfy one’s outdoors/runners needs, like the LA State Historic Park or San Vicente Boulevard.

Warm weather, hilly course, questionable medal design

The RnR series has been around since 1998 and is steadily growing year over year, recently expanding to international events in places like Nice, Dublin and Madrid. Coming off the absolutely amazing experience of my first marathon in Chicago earlier this month, my point of reference was probably out of the league of a Rock n’ Roll event.

The weather was far too warm and the course a bit too hilly (because of some significant uphills towards the end) to aim for a new PR and spectators were mostly only gathered at some key locations (around the start and finish area) along the course. Nevertheless the little kids in costumes, cheering on the runners guaranteed for some memorable moments. Finally the medal, as much as I loved having it around my neck after crossing that finish line, was also a little too halloween-ish for my liking.

A themed running event series: good or bad?

This being my first RnR event, my thought on the series itself is that its cleverly marketed towards the masses and to people that don’t necessarily want to aspire to run a marathon some day, who want to dabble into longer distance running for the first time or beginner runners, having picked up the sport recently. According to the Competitor Group website, 65% of participants are women.

Like the music it got its name from, it does appeal to a broader spectrum of people, the casual runner, than more elitist (for a lack of a better word) events like full marathon-only events like Chicago or Boston. Don’t get me wrong, a race is a race and completing the distance of 13.1 or 26.2 miles, at a RnR event or not, is an extraordinary achievement. But by creating a series out of it, I wonder if that robs each particular event of its unique, locality-specific character. I fear that something gets lost when every event is put together in the same way (rock bands along the way, albeit local ones). Carrying the ‘Rock’ theme through all the way at every event in the same way, it seems that the location becomes a bit interchangeable. In the end it might not matter whether the event is in LA or Tuscon or New Orleans. On the plus side however, if having a running event with mass appeal leads to more people getting off their couches and into running shoes, it might not be a bad idea after all.

All is good after the finish line

In any case, the warm weather, the lack of spectators (which the bands along the route couldn’t really fully compensate for) and the uphill parts that I mentioned earlier all did not really help in the fight against the suffering along the course.

If you manage, however, to fight through the moments when you question your sanity, when your heart is beating so fast that you think it will jump right out of your chest and every muscle in your legs is burning, you get rewarded eventually. In the case of this half marathon, the home stretch was pretty much a straight line from the last turn after coming back through the 3rd Street Tunnel. You could see all the way down along Figueroa Street to the finish line. And the moment when you get in reach of that finish line and finally cross it is always something exciting and memorable. No matter if there are thousands of people behind the barricades or just a handful, this is the moment you forget all your pain and you give into the elation of finishing. You beat the course, but more importantly, you beat that voice on your shoulder that said “You can’t. Stop.” way too many times. You bet I can!