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Posts tagged ‘expo’

Becoming anti-expo

This morning, my husband and I ventured to San Jose about 60-miles away to pick up my race packet for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. I’m usually pretty accepting of picking up my bib number and race shirt far away, then returning home, but today I was annoyed for several reasons.

The first is that gas is ridiculously priced right now. The second is that I felt completely underwhelmed by the experience. So this isn’t an expo review. Not at all. This is a post about how I’ve increasingly become against expos in recent months.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll expos aren’t the entire reason. Competitor actually does a good job of moving people through the lines and then corraling them into an area where you can purchase more race stuff. And then you walk around and looked at all things running related.

Except I didn’t want to stay.

We only had an hour on the meter anyway. I had already made a corral change. I had my bib and my shirt. I had my “swag” bag that wasn’t full of all that much swag. We walked around for about 20 minutes and I looked at my husband and said I was done.

“I’m over it,” I said.

And with that we walked back to the car and drove five miles to the nearest Lululemon. I’m not even joking.

I was disappointed for several reasons, all of which have been hallmarks of many expos I’ve been to lately.

The first was the location. In San Jose, the expo was at the local convention center, right near/in the middle of the downtown area. Not bad. But the building was torn up last year when I went to this expo. And then torn up again this year. We had to walk much further than we wanted to. Petty complaint? Yes.

But consider we’re in a metropolitan location and working against a meter and you’ll realize our dilemma.

The next was organization and a tad bit of misinformation provided at check in.

Check in was easy enough, but see that line at the end. That was the line for my initial corral. Above each of those signs was another sign that said
“corral changes.” So I asked a guy if we made corral changes at the desks. Seems simple enough, right?

He said: “Do you know how this works?”

Then he proceeded to tell me where I needed to go to pick up my bib. I already knew that. I was asking a separate question. He wasn’t listening, or didn’t want to. I know this happens. But I’ve noticed a lot more lately that volunteers aren’t exactly helpful at expos. Often they have no idea how to answer a question.

It’s because they’re volunteers. It’s because they have very little training before being sent out to do their jobs for the day. In many cases I’ve seen teenagers leading people the wrong way at expos. They’re probably working for community service credit, but still.

Again, working against a clock here.

The T-shirt pick up was a breeze, as was the “goodie” bag grab.

Except all these races that promise “goodie” bags have one sample and then a bunch of pieces of paper. The Rock ‘n’ Roll series is notorious for that. Other races (the Oakland Marathon and San Francisco Marathons included) have online options for this. I’m always appreciative of that, even though it likely requires more work.

Why? Because all but one of those papers from the expo I went to this morning went into the recycling bin when I came home.

I think next time I’ll bring my own bag and skip the reusable backpack.

Another peeve is that there are very few deals to be found at expos anymore. Only a year ago, you’d see signs for compression sleeves marked down to $25 from $40 or $5 off on purchases at another booth. I rarely see that these days. I didn’t see that at all today, outside of Competitor offering discounts on signing up for next year’s event.

The size of the event was also smaller, likely due to the ongoing construction, so there wasn’t as much to see.

I’m jaded, I think. I have all my “racing essentials” already. I don’t need last-minute compression socks, or a sports bra, etc. I have running gloves that are packed in my gym bag every day. I have Glide. And sunscreen. I have, basically, all my goods with me. I’ve never purchased shoes at an expo. And I’m saving my money for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon next week.

So we made quick work of it. For a 120-mile round-trip drive, with gas pushing the $5 range, it just wasn’t worth it.

Even if I got to walk past the finish line, where I’ll be, all things going fine, will cross the finish line and receive a pretty blingy little medal tomorrow morning.

But instead of spending any money at the expo, we went and shopped elsewhere.

Race organizers often promise cities when they book events that the runners will bring money in and stimulate the economy. I don’t have qualms with that. I think most races are money boons to cities. But I hate being forced to traverse miles and miles, only to have to come back the next morning.

We decided to venture to Lululemon and stimulate the economy there instead of at the expo, which kind of fails in the purpose of the expo too. It was there I picked up a pair of capris I’ve been eying and new ear guard for colder weather. And then we made out way back to Tracy, via a stop for lunch in Livermore.

The one good thing today? The race T-shirt.

This year, organizers switched to gender-specific shirts. I have last year’s shirt from the same race underneath. It’s a unisex medium. The gender-specific one is a women’s large, big difference.


This post seems rambling. I’m sorry for that, but there’s a lot on my mind as I write it (including what I’ll be making for dinner tonight). But I have a point.

Many races have strict “no race day” pickup policies to avoid confusion and disarray on race mornings. I’m totally fine with that. What annoys me is when I’m forced to drive long distances to spend 20-minutes at an expo and pick up a race packet when there’s very little to offer me otherwise.

So, as much as I try to make a day out of it and add on some extras to make it “worth the drive,” it usually isn’t. The one exception to this is when I head to San Francisco for a race there, because I can often spend the entire day finding things to do.

Moreover, expos don’t offer all that much to entice a more seasoned runner. (Yes, I’m calling myself a more seasoned runner.) For newbies and people still building a base stock on supplies, expos are great.

But most the time, expos offer very little in the way of useful items. This is the case for many of the expos I’ve been to in recent months. I just want to be out and done.

Jaded? Yes, definitely.

But I’m also saving a lot of money by not dropping money on every little thing at an expo.

I’d just like them to be more worth my time and not just a destination to pick up a race bib.


I have a goal for tomorrow’s race, but I don’t want to write it or say it because I think that makes it too real. This race held my PR for nearly a year. It was one of my last good races before I hit a really bad slump at the beginning of the year.

So I have a goal. But I never know until I’m actually running if I’ll make that goal, or if I’m trained enough. There are lots of variables. I’m definitely leaning on my time for this being faster than my projected time for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon.

I don’t want to have too high of expectations, because I’ll be disappointed if I don’t make my first goal, or even second or third goals. But I’m anxious to try.

Answers to your Nike Women’s Marathon (and half) questions

One of the most common search terms that brings visitors to my blog is NWM or “Nike Women’s Marathon.” I know why. It’s  HUGE race, and not just because of the 25,000-plus women who run it. It’s big because of the money it brings in for charity. It’s also a “desired” destination race for the mega bling finishers get at the end.

Behold, the Tiffany pendant.

I hate to say it, but there’s no angels singing or anything when the hot firefighter hands it to you. But it’s beautiful. And amazing. I never owned a Tiffany necklace until I was handed this one. I still have the little blue box.

So in honor of the Nike Women’s Marathon, I’m going to answer some questions I’ve received via email over the past few weeks from nervous runners gearing up to run the 13.1 or 26.2 miles through San Francisco from Union Square to Golden Gate Park (and a lot of places in between).


Not like any expo you’ve likely been to. There’s very few vendor booths selling marathon swag. There’s a lot of “girly” stuff happening instead. You can get pedicures. Neutrogena has a counter and reps will give you pointers on skin care. There’s no race gear for sale. Instead, you have to go to Nike Town across the street.

Nike Town in itself is a mad house. Grab what you want quick, because it will go fast if you don’t.

The biggest thing is that last year Nike started a system where numbers would be assigned upon check in. I ended up with a very low 162 because I went to the expo on Thursday. I recommend going to the expo on Thursday if you live nearby. Why? There’s usually a little something special happening at it. And it’s light. Very light when it comes to people. I didn’t have to wait at all to get my bib.

Nike+ members got an extra disposable backpack for check in. I’m not a Nike+ member, though I now have it on my iPhone. I just got a florescent green bag, but still pretty hefty.

Overall, it’s nice. But I think I ended up spending a lot more money than I really wanted to. And a lot more than I’ve ever spent at an expo because Nike stuff isn’t cheap. (That said, ever since the Saucony disaster earlier this year, I’m staying brand loyal to Nike for the shoes.)


Yes. But the system is crazy. You have to remember what bus you checked in at. I’m hoping this year will be different because of a new corral system. We’ll see. We literally walked through a forest of buses last year looking for the bag my friend checked. I had my husband bring me my bag at the end, so I didn’t check anything.

Then, when said friend got her bag back, something had been spilled on it. Not really what you want after running for a long time.


One word: Bad. But NWM promises a revamped system this year to ease the congestion and, hopefully, the number of walkers getting mixed in with runners at the beginning.

In late September, a new corral map was posted to the Nike 26.2 Facebook page.

It looks promising.

If you click the image, it will take you to the PDF corral map.

That said, people will lie. This happens in nearly every race. Some walkers will say they run at a nine-minute mile pace just to get more time. Then the runners who run 10-12 minute miles, but still run, are stuck behind the walkers, weaving in and out of the way.

It sucks, yes. But it’s a big race. It happens.


At the start, no.  Everywhere else, yes. My two friends and I spent nearly 45 minutes in a portable toilet line that wasn’t moving. At all. People were crowding other people. Some runners were just jumping into the toilets before another one could. It was pretty brutal.

Brutal enough that I took matters into my own hands. When everyone was crowding up to move into starting position (again in very unorganized corrals last year), I noticed a toilet with green above the handle. I jumped in. It seemed everyone else was concerned about starting. So I commandeered a bathroom.

I’m not even ashamed.

The rest of the way, there seemed to be ample enough toilets. The longest lines were at the top of the biggest hill on the half marathon. That’s near the Golden Gate Bridge.


If you haven’t trained for them, of course. I earned my Nike entry last year as part of a sponsored team. I didn’t know I was running the race until about five or six weeks before. At that point I was training, instead, for a PR at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon, which I got (and it was my standing PR until only recently).

There are very few hills on that run.

This year, I’ve increased resistance on my treadmill. I’ve also spent some time focusing on the muscles in my legs that propel me up hills. Proof of my work going well was a 2:32-ish finish in the 1st Half Marathon of the San Francisco Marathon.

A plan of attack: The hills near Fort Mason aren’t horrible and there’s a nice downhill after. The hills before Golden Gate Park are a bit painful. Slow and steady if you’re a running like me (10:30-11:30 minute half marathon time for miles).


Last year, Gatorade was provided on the course. This year, it’s Nuun. That said, water is available as well.

I always carry my own Gu and a water bottle. I suggest some hydration system in this race. Why? Because the first water stops are ridiculously crowded. Not even in a “I’ll go to the end of the table and it will be fine” way. It’s majorly crowded.


If you have no other way to get back, yes. If you are crafty, it’s really easy to catch a bus from the Ocean Beach (where the race ends) down Geary Boulevard and back to Union Square. Or to BART if you are having someone drive you in from the East Bay. A bus ticket only costs a couple dollars compared to the Nike price for a shuttle ticket.

Yes, it’s public transportation. But I’m all about cost saving.

That said, my husband has a knack for finding parking spaces when no one else can. So he drops me off in the morning and picks me up. He’s become really good at it because I run so many races.

When I lived in Oakland for graduate school at University of California, Berkeley, I often turned to 511 for information about buses and BART. I recommend it.


Nope. And honestly, this is always a question on days of early races. In only one case have I seen BART change a race schedule to accommodate a race. The service was limited. I live near the end of the line in Dublin/Pleasanton (in Tracy) and it would literally be a quick hop and skip over the Altamont to take BART. But, alas, no BART early on race day.


All parking in San Francisco is bad. But it’s worse around the finish. Consider that Ocean Beach is a pretty popular destination, Cliff House is nearby and Golden Gate Park always has a lot of people and it’s even worse. Plus, the neighborhoods are packed full of residents’ cars. So if you have someone coming to pick you up, be prepared to trek it out.


For some reason, I get asked this a lot. I don’t immediately eat after a race, so when someone hands me a banana I usually hoard it for the ride home. I was told they had bagel, juice and other stuff. I don’t think I looked hard enough for it, because I didn’t get any.


Crazy. I say that lovingly because a lot of people are taking photos and celebrating, but they are also interrupting the flow of runners just finishing. The T-shirt tables are unorganized (or they were in 2011). No one asks you to verify which size you signed up for, so it’s kind of a free for all.

Last year, I heard a group of men who ran complain that they didn’t get a separate medal or different shirt. It’s a women-focused race dudes. Seriously.

If you blink, you’ll miss something. I nearly missed being handed my space blanket. And don’t expect a singular finish-line shot unless you are an uber competitive runner. There’s always going to be someone around you. I was dodging people up to mile 10. Then I gave up and just went with the flow. My heart race and anxiety were getting the best of me.


Cheesy as it is, Nike was the one race I wanted to do when I started distance running. When I hit my first run over 10 miles, I said I would run Nike. And through serendipity, I got in even after I was rejected from the random draw.

This year, I earned a spot through the lottery with my running group.

And I’m excited about heading out to pound the pavement in San Francisco again. It’s one of the most scenic places in California and has quickly become one of my favorite places to race in.


No problem. If you have a question not listed here, shoot me an email using my contact page. I’d be more than happy to answer. (Even if it’s about the sprinklers coming on in Fort Mason, or tripping in potholes along the road, etc.) Just shoot me a line.

The good, the bad and the ugly of race shirts

A couple weeks ago I wrote about my dislike of the San Francisco Marathon’s half race shirts this year. I also mentioned that everyone has widely differing opinions on race shirts. Some people aren’t satisfied with any shirt they are given, others wear everyone with pride.

I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I have mixed feelings about race shirts in general. I get excited to potentially get a new workout shirt that screams “look what I did.” But I also, as evidenced in the photo above, have way to many race shirts. I’ve opted out of some shirts. Then when I get a really good one, I’m usually excited.

But I also have a lot of bad.

That’s discouraging because the shirt comes as part of the race admission. I pay to run. I pay for the supplies along the course and the use of portable toilets. I also pay for my shirt and my medal.

I know it’s not what running is all about, but when you want to show people your pride for running a specific event you can’t do it if you don’t like the shirt. So, I figured I’d share the good, bad and ugly of what makes a race shirt either worth it or not to me.


I mentioned before that I like clean design and simple lines. I want a race shirt to say the name of the event, without throwing it in your face. I have two favorite examples of this, which happen to be from my first half marathon and marathon.

My California International Marathon one is about as basic as a shirt gets. No frills, no sponsors. Just a nice, functional shirt. And I love it. I love that I was given the option of a short or long sleeve, obviously I took the long sleeve. I love the basic color. It’s a great shirt. Because of that, I wear it all the time.

My 2011 Oakland Half Marathon shirt is also a great one. Again a basic, simple front design. The logo doesn’t look weird across my chest, which is wider than some women, I’ll admit. The sponsors are listed on the back, but aren’t huge either.

Funny thing about my Nike Women’s Half shirt is that a lot of people complained about the color. More people complained about the Safeway store logo being on the side. I loved the color, the plaid texture in the letters and the fit. Nike makes gender-specific shirts that are always the same size as other Nike apparel. So it was easy to pick the best shirt for me. I don’t mind the store logo either.

Brazen Racing makes a habit of having awesome race shirts. They also make a habit of putting on top-notch races, so this isn’t anything new. Between the company’s medal design, T-shirts and low price, Brazen puts on the best runs in the Bay Area.

Brazen also takes into account where and when the races are, including a St. Patrick’s Day run this year in Livermore, close to my house. The Badger Cove one is a perfect example of that. I only own two green race shirts and I love the color.

Brazen has a tendency to be repeat offenders when it comes to awesome shirts. Here are my past two shirts from the Coyote Hills run near Fremont. Same logo, different design. Both fit well. I’ve run other races in the 2011 shirt.

What makes these shirts good? They are cut specifically for women. All are a tech material. No cotton. All fit me the way I want a running shirt to fit, which is tight, but not too tight, and definitely not baggy around the mid section. That always just seems to add extra bulk to me.


A shirt can be nice, but not functional for me. Unfortunately most of the shirts I get fall into this category. I love them, but don’t wear them all that much.

I wish this shirt worked for me, but I find Brooks shirts to be inconsistent. I’ve bought mediums that fit me perfectly and larges that are too small. It’s kind of across the board, especially when they are made from different material. This one is more mesh and is too big in my mid section.

This one is WAY too big. It’s a unisex size and I drown in it. It also has a weird consistency to the fabric, which kind of feels funny when I wear it. I noticed a bunch of people cutting the sleeves and neckline on this shirt at the race. This has been in my “wear to stain furniture” pile for some time now.

Same issue with this shirt: Just too big. It’s a unisex size medium. I didn’t know Rock ‘n’ Roll races had a tendency to make unisex shirts when I signed up for this race. I was really disappointed. I literally swim in it. I love the color an design, but I’ve never worn it.

A shirt company sponsors Bay to Breakers, which would make you think that they’d have some wicked awesome shirts. Nope. Last year, it was a plain white shirt. Even the volunteers got better ones. Those ones were brown, with nice light brown screen printing. The runners got over-sized cotton T-shirts. Worse yet, this year Bay to Breakers charged a ridiculous amount of money for “plus” and “premium” registration with poorly-designed, cheaply made shirts again. Even the Adidas tech shirt was overwhelming and huge. Never again.


And then there’s the shirts I just don’t wear because I’m not a fan. At all.

This year’s Oakland Running Festival took cues from local sports teams and made their shirts color-coded. The half was done after the Oakland Raiders. I’m not a Raiders fan. That’s not to say the Raiders aren’t a good team or anything, I just don’t watch a lot of football outside of following my California Golden Bears. I’m not in love with this shirt because I think the first thing people think of is Raiders and not a marathon. Marketing fail.

This was the first year of this half marathon and the shirt was just lackluster. It honestly felt like the back of a shirt to me and not the front. The back has another big design with a rose, a symbol of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, but it really just looks like they couldn’t decide which design should be front and which should be back.

Simulation mud? Really? Add in the Comic Sans type on this cotton shirts and it’s a race shirt disaster. It’s actually in a donate pile now. I won’t wear it. And to think, some people were worried about getting their shirts muddy after the race. I would have given them mine.


There are some races that despite the not-so-great race shirt, I still want a memory from the race. I’ve bought several “extra” race shirts, including spending a little too much at the Nike Women’s Half last October. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend a little extra for a shirt that I’ll wear a lot.

When I saw this shirt at the expo at CIM I told Thomas that if I finished the race and didn’t die, I wanted this shirt. I was true to my word too. Literally after I got myself put back together we went over to the booth to buy this one. It fits a little weird,  but I have a larger back than most people. I love the modern design and the prominence of “26.2.”

I didn’t realize I’d taken photos of two marathon shirts, but I think it’s fair that I bought both because I wanted a little something in addition to the race shirt from each marathon. I love this shirt. I have a one that’s nearly identical from the Pasadena Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, which I bought in lieu of the race shirt I posted above. I love this shirt because it fits well and is a nice, smooth material.

I’m actually considering sending it a bunch of my shirts to get a quilt made. I’ve seen a couple companies that will make them for a relatively cheap rate. I like that I’d be able to use the shirts again. Right now, most of them aren’t getting much use sitting in a pile in my closet.

Second marathon sophomore slump: Part I

To say I’ve been dreading writing my race recap for the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon would be an understatement. Part of me was hoping, maybe I could just not write anything about the race outside of saying that it sucked. It was not fun for me. It made me work every minute. And I was miserable the entire time.

But that wouldn’t be much of a race recap.

I keep having these “I should have known” moments. I don’t do travel races all too well. I proved that during the Big Sur Half Marathon in November and again during the Big Sur 21-miler. (Or maybe I’m just not up to par for Big Sur races?) Somehow I managed to do OK with California International Marathon last year, though.

The plan was that we’d go down to San Diego on Saturday, early and head back after the race on Sunday.

So we ventured down Interstate 5 in the wee hours of the morning. We hit the road around 5:30 a.m. We sped past Los Angeles, which is about five hours south of where I live, before the noon hour. And, after only two stops along the way, we made it to San Diego sometime after the noon hour.

The happy buzz kind of started to end there as we hit traffic along Harbor Boulevard in downtown on our way to the Convention Center where the expo was happening.

I’ve been to three Rock ‘n’ Roll expos so far. This one was the biggest. This was also the biggest of the three races I’d run.

The check in process was simple. I was handed my blue “marathon” bib.

Rock ‘n’ Roll generally has a pretty efficient system. Bib. Shirt. Reusable backpack.

I got lucky this time with the race shirt. It was a female size. And it even fits good. My one from Pasadena seemed to run a little large. It’s also a nice blue color and basic enough for me to want to wear it again. (I should do a post on what makes race shirts wearable, seriously, because I have quite a few I want to send in and have a quilt made from because I don’t wear them.)

The biggest thing I noticed about the expo was that there was a ton of free stuff. Free milk. Free swag. Free Jamba Juice drinks. Free cake. Even free tuna fish.

Speaking of tuna, I even got a photo with Charlie the Tuna, the mascot from StarKist Tuna.

So that’s a pretty awesome photo. I walked around for about an hour, making a purchase of a 26.2 shirt at the Brooks booth and a new roller for my legs.

The new roller was actually on sale. It’s called a TigerTail and it’s somewhat like my Stick roller from another expo. But it has a solid roller in the middle instead of the beads. This is amazing because my Stick roller pinches me every now and then.

That’s what it looks like. I’ve used it multiple times since the marathon. I’ve also taken it to work to roll my legs out when I need to if I am sitting for too long. At $25, I feel like I got a deal on it.

I didn’t spend too much money at the expo. I just didn’t see anything I really needed, outside of the TigerTail, and maybe some items here and there. I should note that I bought a new container of Glide, but not the name brand. I had forgotten my Glide at home and my fat little arm on my right side has been chafing pretty badly. My arms and gut are the first places I gain weight and where it usually stays, so even when my stomach is looking more svelte and my legs are bulked out, my arms are still chubby.

Before the exit, the videos of the course were playing out.

It was then I had a moment where I realized “I’m running 26.2 miles tomorrow.” And I was nervous. And scared. I’d like to think it doesn’t how many times you do this distance, the  likelihood is that if you are more mortal, less Olympian, you never really full comprehend how long it is when you sign up for it.

It’s a bit of a distance.

We left the expo and headed into the Gaslamp District in San Diego for cupcakes. For me. Because I love cupcakes and I knew specifically where a shop was since I was down in San Diego overnight for an American Society of Newspaper Editors conference in early 2011.

Then we headed back to the hotel. It’s there that a headache started to flair up. But I went and had a pasta dinner, usual fuel, and decided not to head out for a night on the town. Instead, I’d try to tuck in early and see if I could catch up on sleep.

That’s where my experience in San Diego all goes down hill.

I got into bed at 9 p.m. and couldn’t sleep. I turned every which way. I put on the fan for white noise. I was comfortable, but I wasn’t sleeping.

So I laid there. For seven hours. Eyes closed, but never fully falling asleep.

There was nothing I could do about it. My mind kept wandering. Every time I thought “this will be the point I’ll fall asleep” it didn’t happen. I just kept staring at the ceiling.

There was no way I wouldn’t be exhausted running this race. I knew it then. I’d woken up at 4 a.m. the morning before and hadn’t slept the entire night. When my alarm clock went off at 4:45 a.m. I considered not running.

But I’d trained so hard. I’d come so far.

Part of me thought I could pull it together and get it done. And that’s all I thought about as my husband drove me to the start line. My mind wandered. My stomach turned.

It wouldn’t get any better going into the race.


Rockin’ through Pasadena: Part I

My car breaking down on Thursday should have been the first indication that things for our quick overnight trip to Pasadena weren’t going to go as planned.

At 70 miles per hour, my throttle body went out. I drove it to the dealership. The damage? $1,650. Even worse, I don’t get it back until sometime Wednesday or Thursday of this week because of the long holiday.

I’m hoping this doesn’t turn into a repeat of last year when it was gone for two weeks. Still crossing my fingers on that one.

In any case, our plans for me to drive changed fairly quickly. Sam, last year, mentioned wanting to do more of the Rock ‘n’ Roll runs because they reward runners with some awesome swag if you do more than one. (Heavy medals anyone?)

So we signed up for Pasadena, the first California Rock ‘n’ Roll Half during 2012. It was also an inaugural event for the series.

We knew it was going to be a quick trip, basically there and back all within a less than 48-hour period. But it turned out to be a bit more strange than we were anticipating.

We left at 9:30 a.m. from Tracy and headed down Interstate 5 toward Pasadena. The trip was, basically, uneventful. Except there were a lot of idiots who didn’t feel the need to move over when they weren’t going the speed limit in the fast lane. Of note: I was tired. I ended up working an 11.5 hour day because my car broke down and I needed to take it to the dealership Friday morning. More on that later.

We stopped and ate in Buttonwillow, about 20 minutes from the beginning of the Grapevine, the stretch of Interstate 5 that weaves into the Los Angeles basin.

There was never a point where we weren’t going to make it before 5 p.m. but I think we kind of rushed down hoping for an expo to the degree of the San Jose one last October. That wasn’t what we came to.

The front of the pickup line was empty.

Sam and I had little trouble walking up to get our numbers. Next came the shirt booth.

The shirts for this half were actually fitted. Much better than last time in San Jose when Sam and I both got medium sized shirts only to have them basically be dresses on both of us. I opted for a Brooks large, which gives me a little extra room. This shirt has a nice back/front design. The front is above.

This is the back:

We also got our swag bags which serve as gear-check bags too. The Rock ‘n’ Roll series and the San Francisco Marathon, where I did the second half last year, are the only other races that I’ve been given a gear-check bag that’s actually a decent reusable bag. Nike gave me a heavy plastic bag, but not the same quality.

It’s good because I didn’t bring something for bag check and we ended up actually using it since we were there alone, without anyone picking us up.

We made our way through the Brooks area where they sale merchandise. I ended up buying a shirt.

Then we checked out the booths. There weren’t many. We did get some awesome samples of organic cake. That was a plus. We got some Snicker Marathon bar samples too.

It was a beautiful day outside the expo.

And inside we got to see the beautiful medal we’d be getting after finishing.

But there wasn’t much there. We did get $15 off for signing up for the Oct. 7 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose half marathon. We also got a free shirt for the inaugural Pasadena event since they didn’t have any San Jose shirts. Had I of know we’d be scoring those awesome shirts, I probably wouldn’t have bought another one. A day later and I’m wearing the teal-colored T-shirt at home.

After only 45 minutes, we were done. I don’t even think I spent that little time at my first half marathon expo.

We did score a pair each of CEP compression sleeves. Sam opted for black for her first pair ever. I went a little wild with pink.

They look at little something like this:

I actually wore them during the race and they were incredibly comfortable. And I love the color.

So we headed to our hotel, which was a Travelodge on a main street through Pasadena. It was quaint, and OK for the price we paid. But we had a problem: We had about five hours to kill and nothing to do.

Sam started looking at places we could potentially go. We ended up heading to the Citadel Outlets in Los Angeles. Sam needed a water bottle. Despite our best efforts, we didn’t find out. We did find shoes. Lots of shoes. Well, only one pair for me, but lots of shoes for her.

She ended up with four pairs on an amazing sale. And then we decided we needed food. I had a bit of a headache. We opted for a restaurant literally right down the street from the place we were staying. We should have tried something else.

To say it was the worst experience I’ve had eating out might be an understatement. We waited nearly an hour between the time we sat down and the time we ate.

I didn’t tip. The waiter refused to even acknowledge us most the night. (Did I mention we had some crazy experienced on the 110 freeway in Pasadena? Wow, it was nuts. We saw two nearly overturned cars in two places this weekend. Seriously, it was amazing.)

We then headed back to the hotel to settle down. Sam seemed to fall asleep immediately. Not me.

About an hour after I went to bed and I still wasn’t asleep someone checked into the room above us. It must have been a group with girls. They laughed for hours until they went to bed. I couldn’t sleep. I turned on the fan on the window cooler for white noise. Still no sleep.

I finally got t sleep only to awake twice in the night.

I knew when I finally woke up for good at 4:53 a.m. that I hadn’t gotten enough sleep. We had to be at the Rose Bowl before 6:30 to be assured a parking space (which we paid $10 for). It was dark. We looked for a Walgreens too. Nothing.

When we finally made our way to the Rose Bowl it actually wasn’t a bad parking arrangement. We got in and out of the car pretty quickly.

And we had an hour or so to go before race time. Good thing, too, because my stomach was feeling a little bad.

I should have known that was a sign of something bad. But I didn’t realize my run would be one of my worst yet.

It’s not an expo, it’s an Expotique

I’m going to try to temper my excitement with this post, I swear. But it’s going to be hard for a couple reasons. One is that this is the race I’ve wanted to run all year. Another is that I’m doing so for free as part of Team Somersaults!

I had commitments both Friday and Saturday, so I was glad Nike started the expo – or Expotique as it’s called – on Thursday. A bonus to that was that my brother-in-law was playing a show right down the street in the same area. So I took BART in from the East Bay and left my car where my husband, who was meeting me for the show, could drop me off later.

I literally jumped off the BART and headed immediately to Union Square.

If you know anything about that area of San Francisco, you know it’s a huge tourist spot. The sidewalks, which are all under construction around Union Square – making me wonder how all of this is going to go down on Sunday – were full of people. I tried to wait patiently at the light.

When I finally got across the street, I was greeted by a little confusion and a huge tent.

I went to one side and was told by a guard that the line for checking in was there. I waited there for 10 minutes when I realized it was the wrong check in line. Another guard told me to go to the middle of the tent. Wrong again. I finally saw where check in was, only to have another guard – really rude this time – tell me I had to yet again go around the tent. Signs would have been nice, but I digress.

I found the yellow-marked half marathon line. Check in was quick. I was handed my number – a circular bib with a really low number, apparently numbers are assigned when we get there, which is easy for volunteers – and a bag full of coupons and samples, including Somersaults Snacks new flavor cinnamon.

I then proceeded to the rest of the tent where there were a good deal of vendors. Even on a Thursday, it was a big of a mad house.

There were samples of Gatorade, Pom and Neutrogena. Some women were getting their hair done. Others were getting foot massages. I honestly wasn’t interested in either of those things. I’m not just into really girly stuff.

Safeway had an awesome setup to ride a treadmill and power a smoothie.

The tent was a little stuffy, despite huge fans. It was a relatively warm day in San Francisco. I took off my jacket (I didn’t need it at all, even at 9:30 p.m. when I finally left) and stuffed it in my black pull string backpack. I ventured outside and found that Safeway had more samples of an Asian noodle salad, fruit and cookies. They were also pouring Italian soda.

Awesome! I’d been hungry my way over and didn’t stop to eat before I came to Union Square.

I went back into the tent for a little while and checked out the different offerings. I also noticed that there was a deejay! I’d never been to a expo with a deejay! That was kind of a nice addition.

I followed another crowd outside where there was a booth selling runner must-haves (forgot Glide? They had it). I also noticed a really crazy line forming at another booth. I went over to check it out. It was the Somersaults Snack Co. booth! The demand was huge! I tried to squeeze in, but a group of about 15 women went by me as I was taking this photo.

“Try some of the cinnamon ones!” one of them said to the others. By the time I backed up, they were surrounding the booth. Somersaults Snacks were definitely one of the highlights of the expo. And see the team jersey? Love! The ladies at Somersaults also gave me a sunflower clip to wear in my hair for the race.

And, because I didn’t want to cover my team jersey, I bought arm warmers to wear. This will be my first race with arm warmers.

So the expo got a little crazy after that as more and more people came.

Safeway was hosting a “ladies night,” so there was a lot going on. I decided to take leave and head over to the Niketown store where I knew the crowds would also be. One entire floor is dedicated to Nike Women’s Marathon goods. I walked in and there were people everywhere!

I went looking for half-marathon specific apparel. I’m a stickler for that. I don’t want to wear a shirt that says “marathon” typically unless I’ve run the distance. That said, there were a lot of people running the half buying the apparel. So I grabbed up two half-specific shirts. And I got a bag. And a poster (even though I registered late so my name isn’t on it). I bought an awesome jacket. It says NWM, so I think I’m going to take it to a local embroidery guy to add “13.1” to it. I’m weird like that. I also grabbed a water bottle.

I found one specific shirt that I absolutely love, though.

I bought enough to get me a free photo frame. It also flagged fraud alert on my American Express. Nice. I had to try to remember my pin number. Awkward when you can’t even remember setting up your credit card. Not sure what the lady at AmEx or the guy behind the counter thought of me. But the purchase went through.

By the way, the Nike store is decorated in all NWM. It’s inspirational. I kept trying to take photos of the huge sign as I went up the escalator. They all came out blurry. So this is my best effort from the line.

After calling my husband to make sure he knew the card was being used lawfully by me, I went back to Union Square where part of the crowd had thinned out in some areas, or so I thought.Everyone was actually inside the tent as they drew names for a Cole Haan bag. I found my way around, checking out more booths.

At one, I was offered frozen strawberries. The guy manning the booth also told me not to be afraid of the first hill in this one. That kind of put me at ease, but not really. I grabbed the strawberries and found a stand-up table to eat at.

Safeway also provided the decor for the tables. Beautiful flowers. Nice setup.

By then, it was getting to be time for me to head out. I tried, again, to stop by the Somersaults booth. They were so busy! Every time one person left, another person came over. Those cinnamon-flavored snacks are kind of addictive.

I passed by a couple more vendors. The Google Wallet people gave me a free Diet Coke. The technology was pretty awesome, but not available on my Droid X. And I received some samples from the Meyer’s Soap folks too. Good stuff too.

That’s my spread at home later. I also “liked” Neutrogena on Facebook at the booth to receive a small bag with face wash and sunscreen. That will come in handy tomorrow. I’m hoping it’s a nice, yet cold, day.

After all was said and done, I headed over to the Westfield Shopping Center to look around and wait for my husband. I walked past even more signs proclaiming it Nike Women’s Marathon weekend. It was awesome.

The one hanging from Macy’s was, by far, my favorite.

Also among my favorite is the shirt I bought that says “I run to be sexy.” It’s a long-sleeve shirt, perfect for the soon-to-be-cooling weather. I bought it after seeing what I consider a huge sign telling me to do so at the Expotique.

So my visit to the Expotique went really well. I chatted with some folks, spent way too much money at Niketown, got my bib and I think I’m almost ready for the Sunday run.

I can’t say it enough: I’m excited to run this race. I’ll be more excited when I get to San Francisco tomorrow at 6:15 a.m. and meet with with Team Somersaults for our photo beforehand. I’ll be excited when I run, even if the hills turn out to be not so wonderful.

To me, it’s not about the Tiffany necklace at the end. It’s not about the swag. It’s about the cause this is for. It’s about what it represents. Thousands upon thousands of women running together for a cause. It’s about empowerment. In the past two years I’ve run to be a lot of things.

I run to be stronger. I run to be powerful. I run to be healthy. I run to be sane. I run to be me.

On Sunday, I run to be empowered.