EXPO-nentially Large Loot

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I remember picking up my first-ever half marathon number like it was yesterday. I walked up the creaky stairs of the New York Road Runners’ office – a beautiful brownstone on 5th Avenue and 89th Street in New York City – and was handed a race number, a yellow timing chip and four safety pins. The race “shirt” was a cheap cotton sleeveless… thing, just like the ones my grandpa used to wear on hot summer days. I thanked the kind volunteer ladies, licked my thumb to grab a small black plastic bag, blew on it to open, dumped in my above-mentioned swag and was happily on my way.

This is what pretty much any race number pick-up used to be 10 years ago… except at one point they switched from cheap cotton sleeveless things to cheap cotton T-shirts.

So imagine my surprise when, in 2010, I went to pick up my first-ever Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon race number. I walked into the San Jose McEnery Convention Center and experienced a New York City Marathon Expo flashback. The race check-in/ number pick-up booths. The merchants. The swag. The loud music. The big-screen TVs playing a video loop of the race course.

All that, for a half marathon. I can only imagine what the Rock’n’Roll series marathon expos are like. Surely, they must rival my wedding in their exuberance.

Now, expos are by no means posh affairs. Case in point, the “fitting rooms” at this year’s San Jose Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon expo:

Do you think the actual “potties” are still in there, or are those some jokester’s idea of a custom-made race expo fitting room?

And it looks like they miscalculated the amount of red carpet needed to make us, runners, feel super extra special on pre-race day:

… Oops. Red carpet covers half the hallway to the expo entrance.

But the merchandise hall was huge (what you see is just the entrance):

… and pretty much most vendors had raffles or giveaways of some sort, in exchange for your name, address, phone number and email. But hey, who cares if I have to delete one more junk email each morning: we won a gift card for a free 16-oz Jamba Juice smoothie!

Of course, plenty of local and out-of-town races had their own booths and sweet registration fee discounts. I signed up for next year’s 408k Race to the Row for $40 (instead of $48 + online registration fee). And, like last year, I took advantage of the $15 discount and signed up for next year’s Rock’n’Roll San Jose for “only” $65. Registration for tomorrow’s race at the expo today was $150!

One of the most popular booths was the Rock’n’Roll Las Vegas marathon one, where a scantily-clad show-girl lady and Elvis handed out prizes to all who spun the wheel. Sadly, I didn’t win the grand prize: a chance to win free registration to this year’s race (it’s Las Vegas, after all – you play for a chance to play, for a chance to win). I did “win” a purple inflatable microphone, though… who knows, it may come in handy for Halloween.

Two hours and $125 for race fees and a kid-size T-shirt later, we left, with our bellies full of protein and granola-bar samples and energy drinks, and swag backpack overflowing with race expo loot:

Car stickers, product samples, coupons and race brochures galore!

So much loot, in fact, you can barely see the race T-shirt: women’s cut, dri-fit, Brooks. Dare I say, a big improvement over the sleeveless cotton things of way back when.

Good luck to all runners tomorrow: see you at the finish line!

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