SAN JOSE -- As they pulled up to the starting line of Sunday's eighth annual Rock 'n' Roll San Jose Half Marathon, James Vicary was counting on his own country music mix to get him through the 13.1-mile course.

Wheelchair racer Gustavo Marquez Jr. decided Andrea Bocelli and some Jay-Z would keep him going on the alternate "mini" 5-mile route.

And off to the sideline, Richard Chavira made his own sound, ringing a cowbell whenever one of his many friends passed by in their bright red "Red Power Divas/Divos" T-shirts.

But for most of the morning's record-breaking crowd of 16,000 runners, joggers and walkers, it was rock 'n' roll from 18 local bands and 16 high school cheer groups stationed along the way that helped distract runners from the grueling miles ahead.

And those were just the official groups that encouraged the participants, including the elite male and female runners who competed for cash prizes. (See sports section)

Homeowners along the route provided their own garage bands, or swing music, or recordings of the theme from the movie "Rocky" to keep up the beat during the route that began downtown at West Santa Clara Street and Almaden Boulevard. It wound its way past City Hall, through Japantown along The Alameda, into the Rose Garden and back downtown.

"It picks you up and keeps you going," said 57-year-old Jas Sumal, of Cupertino, who was recently injured and only walked the mini-course with her daughter Priya, 32. "People were sitting outside their homes and playing guitars and singing. It was fun."

Strong security

For 44-year-old Julie Miller, of San Jose, who finished the race in 2½ hours, the music "helps you get a rhythm going and helps distract you from the challenge of the endurance,'' she said. "It just kind of moves you forward, and it's really appreciated."

So was a heightened security presence.

Sunday's 8 a.m. race started a few minutes late after a bystander notified organizers about an unattended backpack that police later determined was filled with trash.

But Tracy Sundlun, senior vice president of Competitor Group, the San Diego company that owns the Rock 'n' Roll race series, said the Boston Marathon bombing in April has put a greater emphasis on security at races, including hiring more police and using bomb-sniffing dogs. "Many of the things we did before, which we attempted to keep from the public, we now do more openly and publicize," including pre-sweeps of the course and facilities linked to the race, he said.

"Before it was a source of concern," he said. "Now it's a source of comfort."

San Jose police could not confirm whether they had increased the number of officers at the event, or what security tactics were used. They could not confirm if any arrests or injuries had occurred.

Focused on running

People like 60-year-old Chavira, who has either run in or attended the race for the last four years, said he thought there were more police officers this year, especially around the starting gate.

"This year it was more noticeable, and I was happy to see them," said Chavira, who was there to watch his 8-year-old son race.

But the day unfolded peacefully, and by 11 a.m. thousands of racers, their families and friends were gathered downtown at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez to listen to music, refuel and quench their thirst.

Marquez, 32, who was injured in a car accident 10 years ago, came with a team of 20 friends and family who tried to keep up with him.

Like Vicary, he brought his own music -- some classical, some hip-hop, even a little jazz -- that he said keeps him focused.

"With me when I'm exercising, and I hear a song I like, I just push myself even harder," said Marquez, who was proud to post a personal record of 39 minutes and 40 seconds, much better than the 55 minutes it took him to complete the 5-mile course last year.

Vicary, 28, who ran the half-marathon in 1 hour and 26 minutes, beat his goal by 4 minutes, energized by the country songs of Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan that thumped inside his headset.

"I was zoned out on my own music," said Vicary, "and just kept running. "

Contact Tracy Seipel at tseipel@mercurynews.com or 408-275-0140.