Pros and Cons of Rock N Roll USA Course Change

by - Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yesterday Competitor Group announced a course change to the Rock N Roll USA marathon and half marathon in DC.

It stirred up lots of chatter among some of my favorite DC running people as we debated the pros and cons of the new course, and since Ashley asked me right away what I thought of the changes, I thought I'd share.

RNR USA 2013 course
New course for 2013

For the record, I haven't run this race since Competitor took it over, but I did run it when it was still the National Half and I spectated the heck out of it last year.

Let's start at the start.

New in 2013 will be brand new start location along Constitution Ave. and the National Mall. This is a big change from the start at the National Army.

RNR starts line 2013
New start line

This change has several pros and cons.

On the positive side, there are a lot more metro stops that are within walking distance to the new start line, which might help alleviate some of the major crowding on the trains. It's also a little more of a scenic start point than the Armory.

On the negative side, if you used to drive to this race, you won't really be able to anymore. Or at least there will not be ample parking, and road closures might make it tricky to get there. (This doesn't bother me, I prefer races that I can metro to, but I know it's a consideration for some people.)

Since this is now a point-to-point race, I wonder if the race organizers will offer a shuttle from the finish line to the start before the race, so people who want to drive can park there and not have to worry about it.

Also on the negative side, the DC Armory was a great place to be able to stay warm until the race started, and there were even some regular bathrooms that people could use. At the new starting location, we'll just have to deal with whatever the weather throws at us and the porta-potties.

Moving on from the start, this race used to bill itself as the only marathon held completely within the DC-city limits. Unfortunately after this year's course change, it can no longer say that.

RNR USA virginia

Early on in the race, the new course kicks you across the Potomac River and into Arlington, a loop that is also used in the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.

I'm not a huge fan of this loop. Things get a little dicey with lots and lots of people trying to run around the traffic circle at once. Plus, if I remember correctly, there's some cobblestone, which can make for some tricky footing.

From there the course takes you through a few miles in Rock Creek Park, instead of the old course that took you through DuPont Circle. I absolutely love running through the park. It's beautifully scenic and while there is a gentle uphill climb, it is much, much more gentle than the climb through DuPont.

RNR USA rock creek

I run the park regularly on my training runs and it's definitely one of my favorite places to run in the city, so I'm thrilled to see it as part of the course. The only possible downside is that it's not the easiest for spectators to get to, so I would expect there to be slightly less crowd support.

Once you come out of the park, the second half of the half marathon course is largely the same as it has been in years past.

RNR USA 2nd half

You'll run past Howard University where there's usually some good spectator support. Then you'll cruise down N Capitol Street and get some nice views of the Capitol Building, before taking a short run through the H Street Corridor and Capitol Hill neighbor and ending the race in front of RFK stadium.

From quick glance it looks like the second half of the marathon course is also staying pretty much the same as last year's course.

The race is a point-to-point race now, which could make things logistically more complicated for spectators (and also means some of the cheer points on my awesome spectator guide aren't useful anymore), but there are still plenty of places to watch the runners. When it's closer to the race, I'll put together an updated spectator guide.

Overall, I'm going to go out on a limb and say I like most of the changes, especially getting to run several miles through Rock Creek Park and avoiding the nasty DuPont hills.

If you've run this race in the past what do you think of the course changes? Are you planning to run RNR USA in 2013? If you are, the race organizers are offering a registration discount until September 9th with the code USACOURSE.

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  1. I agree on the point-to-point being a logistical drawback, though I guess both the start and finish are somewhat close to a metro station. I personally think that the hill from Rock Creek up to Calvert Street is MUCH worse than the DuPont hills, but I might just be especially sensitive to that after running up it too many times.

  2. I think the reason it doesn't bother me as much is because I'm so used to running it, so now it just seems normal.

  3. My dad lives on Calvert St, and I have run that hill up to Calvert from Rock Creek, and to me -- someone who never runs hills -- it's a KILLER! However, I agree that any part of a course through the park would be enjoyable; the park is a lovely place to run! I've never done this race, but I've considered it. Maybe I'll think about it for 2013: Hills be damned! (But, they would definitely slay me.)

  4. I think I like the new course. I agree with Victoria that the Calvert hill is killer! I would rather to the Dupont hill, but I think it's just psychological.

  5. Beth Maurer3:58 AM

    Hi Jess, thanks so much for the course information! I am from central PA and will be running the Rock'n'Roll USA half tomorrow morning, and was scavenging online for some info on hills on the course! I see there is some debate and am now grateful for my hill training!

  6. You do know that the loop in "Arlington" is still considered DC, right? Might want to check out your maps before making comments like that