Rock & Roll comes to Savannah

Twenty-three thousand runners and walkers, fast and almost completely flat streets for the most part, and gorgeous sunny weather. That’s what the race was like at the Rock & Roll Savannah Marathon & Half Marathon, which welcomed 16,000 half-marathoners in addition to 7,000 full marathoners to its inaugural running on the first Saturday of November 2011.

Runners near the starting line at the Rock & Roll Savannah Half Marathon on Nov. 5, 2011

The race began at the corner of Bull and Bay Streets in the city’s downtown historic district, known for its plentiful hotels, shops, restaurants and bars that are filled to the rafters every St. Patrick’s Day. This time of year, however, the downtown is populated largely by tourists as well as students at the Savannah College of Art and Design, whose campus lies just blocks from where the race started.

After the start through what is a really visually interesting part of the city — the historic district lies just a stone’s throw from the Savannah riverfront and walk — the race heads west along Bay Street and out of downtown, into some pretty nondescript areas.

After the start downtown, the course heads up and over a slight incline.

The course spends the next few miles heading mostly outside the city, through more industrial-warehouse-commercial district areas. There were spectators out in these parts of the course, though nothing really like what we runners found as we headed back into the city later in the race.

However, this isn’t at all disappointing, especially for runners looking to set new personal record times or for runners trying their first marathon or half marathon — this course is pretty much tailor-made for someone who’s a first-timer, as it really is one of those few race courses that’s almost completely flat for the entire 13.1 miles (I speak only for the half marathon, as that’s the course I ran).

You can really get a sense of the terrain from photos like this one:

Between mile markers 4 and 5 out on the course at the Rock & Roll Savannah Half Marathon.

Once the race course approached the mile 6 marker, though, the scenery and the city became much more interesting as we headed back into more historic neighborhoods, with lots more people on the sidelines cheering runners on. As you might expect, my energy had started to flag a little out on the sections outside the city, and really picked up once we met up with spectators again.

Moss-covered trees lined with historic homes, and by the time we reached the later miles of the races, TONS of people were out on the sidewalks — actually the lane available for runners really began to narrow in the stretch along Price and Henry Streets in the second half, when spectators nearly equaled the number of runners out there, it seemed.

There were just a few very gradual hills toward the end of the half marathon, really just in the last couple of miles, and they weren’t too challenging. The only real complaint I could lodge about this race was something I’m not sure could have been avoided — the size of the race.

When you’re dealing with a race the size of these Rock & Roll series events — with 20,000 runners and sometimes many more — there are going to be organizational headaches. Case in point: Upon arriving in Savannah early Friday afternoon to pick up my race bib, we had to cross over a bridge from downtown to the city’s convention center, where the race expo was held. As we all discovered, two-lane roads to get onto the convention center property weren’t enough to handle all the traffic, and I along with hundreds of other runners spent half an hour in transit covering less than a mile of road, waiting on the bridge and then in line to find a place to park.

Savannah's famed Forsyth Park Fountain, just steps from the race finish line.

And after the race, the wait for the shuttle buses back to our hotel was quite long as well — especially after paying $20 for the shuttle bus ticket, which was supposed to secure easy transport to and from the race area downtown. Again, these are headaches you’re going to experience at any large event with this number of people — just know what you’re getting into when you sign up for a race this size.

However, these Rock & Roll races offer what smaller races simply can’t, and that’s the chance to be part of something that’s truly a big deal: having thousands of people come out to cheer you on as you run through the streets of a city that’s as beautiful as many parts of Savannah are is hard to match.

Run in last weekend’s Rock & Roll Savannah race? What were your impressions?

One thought on “Rock & Roll comes to Savannah

  1. This was my second full marathon, and I think the race was oversold given what Sav. has to offer in the way of restaurants, hotels, etc. I also had expected the course to be a bit more picturesque. Running 4-5 miles along the highway was kind of lame. However, the post race location was excellent. Where there was crowd support was excellent. Running through some of the parks was nice too. Mixed feelings overall. Not gonna run ( pun intended ) to do this one again. Too many other prime locations to choose from.

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