Attitude Vs. Altitude: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Mexico City Half Marathon
At the start of every race, I always have an initial goal time in mind. I start off as an idealist imagining myself running carefully routed tangents coupled with astonishingly even splits en route to a precise chip time. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Mexico City Half Marathon presented me with a great excuse for a destination race with a historic metropolis to run through, but there was one little variable that was going to prove to be a challenge: altitude.
At 2,250 m, Mexico City sat 2,175 m (or 7,135 ft.) higher than Toronto. This was my first race at elevation and I was advised that altitude affects everyone differently – in other words, I had no idea what to expect. I was advised to run this race by feel so I figured that I’d make of a go of it and find out whether the altitude would keep me flying or take me down crying.
Happiness is Orange
The expo was held at the Banamex Centro Convention Centre that is adjacent to the Hipodromos de las Americas Racetrack race start and finish area. The expo was well stocked with all of the brands, accessories, and gear that you could need for race day although pricing was at a premium to what you might find at home. I was relieved that I liked the design of the crossing-guard orange Atletica race shirt such that I was not tempted to buy myself yet another tech shirt as a souvenir.
Tip: Taking a quick Uber ride is a much faster way to get to the expo and race start and will only set you back between $10-20 each way depending on demand.
It’s Time to Rock (sort of)
Race day had arrived and it was a spectacle to enter the Hipodromos de las Americas Racetrack as multitudes of orange-clad race shirt runners funneled in like gladiators to challenge the race. There was a yoga stretching area, food trucks, and of course some pre-race beer for those who were so inclined. Race banners and rock music decorated the atmosphere and energized us all to get ready to go.
As we headed into our corrals, there was one particularly badass running group that was highlighted to the crowd: The #Tex2Mex crew. As the announcer put it, this “dedicated” (or did I hear “loco”?) group of runners ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas Half Marathon in the morning, didn’t shower, and then jumped on a plane to run either the 11 km (apparently odd distances are common within Mexico) or 21.1 km at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mexico City race in the evening. All the mileage, with elevation gain, on the same day. I was already whimpering with fatigue and headaches after 2½ days of adjustment and the #Tex2Mex crew was a reminder to me to just suck it up and go for it.
The Happy First Half
With any race, the first half is always the easier one for me to deal with. My legs are fresh and I’m full of pre-race optimism. Having only done an easy 5 km shake out run a couple of days beforehand, I had yet to run at a harder pace so I had no idea what type of pace I could handle.
As with all Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon events, there were great bands lined along the course with both American and Mexican music featured to spur us on. Aid stations volunteers did a great job in pinching together the tops of the Gatorade cups to make it easier for us to drink without spilling all over ourselves. Water was given out in sealed plastic pouches where you had to bite into them to poke a hole for your fluids. Apparently *some* runners struggled with this and had the water burst into their face – just sayin’.
The first 11 km felt reasonably flat and was a great tour through some of the highlights of Mexico City. We passed through Bosque de Chapultepec that is one of the largest parks in the Western hemisphere. We then were treated with a run through Paseo de la Reforma which is a beautifully wide promenade traversing the heart of the city under the watchful eye of The Angel of Independence
For the first 10 km, my goal was a 4:40/km pace which, in reality, turned into 5:01/km. My legs were starting to feel laboured and by the 11th km, I had started to drop down to 5:11/km – my legs were being reeled in by the altitude.
The Rampant Second Half
The last 10 km was tough. My pace went up and down along with the ups and downs through one of local city highway’s onramps and offramps. My wife ran the 11 km route that covers this same portion of the half marathon and apparently, these highway overpasses provided a great view of the city. I, however, was in altitude-induced-sucking-pace-grief and was just focused on getting my laboured legs up and down those ramps towards the finish.
Heading into the 15th km, however, my spirits perked up as the 1:45 pace group came by. Shouts of “Venga! Venga!” (“Come on! Come on!”) kept me going for one of my fastest splits but as the up ramps kept coming, I simply ran out of gas and had slowed down considerably in my last 5 km.
The Not-So 400m Track
As my eyes continued to bulge out during the last few kilometers of the run, I experienced hope as I saw the gleaming lights of the Hipodromos de las Americas Racetrack. I was almost finished.
Upon seeing the racetrack, I figured that I had just a couple more minutes of running to get to the end. But wait – why was it taking me so long to run around the track? Why was it taking me so much longer to run 400m? I then realized that horses have a much longer racetrack than we do so my eyes went back to bulge mode as I realized that I had more than a kilometer to go.
A Party-Full Finish
As I crossed the finish line, I was relieved to be done. But as soon as I received my medal, ate my banana, and rocked on to the finish line concert, I wanted to do it all over again. Being in a stadium, the finish area was really lit up as celebration party for the runners to enjoy. We were well fed and could grab ourselves a finisher’s drink to toast our accomplishment. And even though the altitude and onramps were a challenge, the idealist in me will remember the city lights, Spanish cheers, and party atmosphere to want to sign up all over again.
April 3rd, 2016