Tag

race

Browsing
Disclosure: Bain here. I didn’t run Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans this year, so I didn’t write this post–it’s a guest post by fellow Rock ‘n’ Blog team member Gretchen Schoenstein! (I did write the headline, so don’t blame her for that, okay?) Gretchen ran this race as a Rock ‘n’ Blog team member (which means she didn’t have to pay the entry fee) but all of the content (including the pictures) and opinions are hers alone. Enjoy!

What better way to celebrate New Orleans 300th Anniversary than to run a Rock ’n’ Roll half marathon! RnR NOLA has got to be one of the most, if not the most, colorful race weekends out there. And the most energetic. And most beaded for sure. Those colors, that energy and of course those beads were on full, enchanting display this past weekend.

It might seem a bit odd to celebrate a city known for amazing food and drink to bring a bunch of runners to town to join the hometown runners–had more than one cab and ride-share driver remark on “y’all aren’t the usual crowd”–but where else are you going to celebrate your finish line with a sazerac than in the city that invented the drink?

For me, it’s a city I’ve been aiming to get back to to run since I first ran #RnRNOLA back in February 2011. Back then, it was only my 7th half marathon, and my 3rd Rock ’n’ Roll event. This past NOLA race was my 64th half marathon (54th RnR half!) and oh so worth the effort to finally get to run it in New Orleans again! It’s such a unique place to run–the history, the food, the people. Folks who are from New Orleans have a pride that is nearly unmatched for their city, and they’re so grateful to have all us runners come to town and not only enjoy a beautiful course that shows off some of the best parts of the city, but also make a point to really celebrate in a city that knows how.

You could sum up RnR NOLA for a lot of runners as: Run Hard, Play Hard!

And when I say run hard, here’s the great news, it’s not necessarily a hard run. Meaning, it flat, fast, and below sea level. Which is beautiful. You can’t help be hopeful and expectant for a happy finish time. Not only that, but the music along the course is unique to the city and some of the most dynamic you will hear on any course. ‘Kingfolk’ standing on the bed of a pick up truck playing vibrant New Orleans jazz while shouting and whooping it up with runners as the pass by? Yes please! Or how about looking up and around and seeing the history surrounding you in the churches, buildings, and homes architecture. And if you keep looking up, you’ll see beads just about everywhere.

Speaking of music–the speakers in the new mile markers signs? You have to hear them! Especially when you hear a song again along the way, like it’s your own soundtrack following you.

Run hard and you may just get a PR. Like I did seven years ago. Here’s the thing: it’s still my PR. And so I’d had aspirations of aiming for that PR again–ended 2017 races on an upswing, so why not? Well, the flu and pneumonia got in the way in January and February, so I had to shift my goal a bit. This you can do in NOLA. It’s a low risk, high reward kind of race. You can go for it, and this being the first of 12 halfs for 2018, I decided to get curious and use it as a way to kick the tires or test the water of what my body is capable of at the moment. Within the first few miles, I thought, hmmm, if I fight for every second I can on this course, I might just beat ALL of last year’s race finish times.

And so you take in the whole course, the amazing runners (eager in sequined skirts, green purple and gold shirts, sunglasses with the sun beaming) along the way like the woman running backwards, or the two guided blind runners inspiring everyone around them, Kathrine Switzer, or the Darth Vader wearing a Saints hat cheering people along. And the spectators? New Orleans might just have some of the best out there. So loud, so fun, so delighted to see us running towards them.

Speaking of seeing things coming – you cannot miss the NEW SIGNS along the course! New signs for water, gel and SiS support. I’d heard about these coming up but until you experience them you cannot begin to know how helpful they are. First, they’re super obvious from down the way, so you can much better navigate moving to the right or left or staying in the middle without tripping over runners making last minute decisions. The flow of runner traffic is much smoother through there.

Plus, seeing the signs way up ahead allowed me to finish a gel or make a thoughtful decision about water, yes or no? And if yes, which side? And also if yes, how much? My fueling was far better managed which made for consistency that I know helped keep my pace and health along the course.  These signs are a game changer. As always, there was stellar volunteer support at those water and gel stations–people working so hard to make sure runners have access to things they need–the determined commitment they have makes you shout out THANK YOU as you run by.

When you finish in City Park, it’s nearly an instant party. How could it not be? It’s New Orleans, c’mon! There were even food trucks nearby and I’ve never seen so many runners lined up for delicious offerings with Soul Offerings and Cowboy Mouth raging on stage–if you’re a food truck, you did extremely well serving a lot of hungry runners. That afternoon and evening, after everyone had crossed their finish lines, the bars and restaurants were buzzing with runners eating and drinking their way through the city; you could spot them, they had a hobble in their giddyup and a big smile on their face.

Oh, as for me? Just being in New Orleans and recalling some of the familiar course, including running down and back along St Charles Avenue, a bit along Magazine Street, down by the Mississippi river with it on your right and St Louis Cathedral on your left, past Cafe du Monde, and up onto Esplanade Avenue and entering into City Park past the huge fountains was worth the travel and the effort. And yes, I pushed myself because I could and because the course allowed it. And so, happily, I crushed ALL 10 of last year’s finish times by nearly three minutes. Couldn’t have done without the New Orleans course and the Rock ’n’ Roll support.

Happy 300th Birthday New Orleans. Laissez les bon temps rouler indeed!

About the Author. With half marathons being her preferred distance, Gretchen Schoenstein has run 64 of them since April 2010. In late 2006 she was unable to walk, diagnosed with a debilitating auto immune disease that resulted in doctors telling her she’d never run again. For 3.5 years she listened to them and then decided to run despite their protestations and laced up a pair of running shoes and hasn’t looked back, running 64 half marathons in eight years, with a goal of 75 total by the end of 2018. It doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges and flare ups, including being diagnosed with asthma, but as every step is a gift, Gretchen is grateful for every day she gets to run and every step she gets to take. 

Psst! Bain here. Why not follow Gretchen on Instagram and Twitter? Her handle is @rungrateful, in case those links are giving you trouble. You can also find her blog at iwonderwoman.com

Disclosure: I was fortunate enough to be selected for the 2018 Rock ‘n’ Blog Team. Members of the Rock ‘n’ Blog Team receive free entry to up to ten Rock ‘n’ Roll races and one VIP, and other surprise perks. All of the opinions in this review are my own, there is no sponsored content. Per usual, I’ve got plenty to say on my own.

The times, they are a changin’, since Ironman bought Competitor Group and is now entering its first year solo as the owner and producer of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series. While some of the bigger changes were already phased in—such as the much-anticipated price increase for Tour Pass and the elimination of the unlimited Tour Pass option (bringing the cost per Tour Pass race to $70) and the transition of the Competitor staff who accepted offers to move to Tampa into their new Ironman roles—many were waiting for the first race of the year to see what the new series owner has in store for Rock ‘n’ Roll.

New Brooks hat and new goodr sunglasses on course at Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona 2018

General Communication. Or lack thereof. The complaint I have heard most frequently is that it is currently impossible to get ahold of anyone at Rock ‘n’ Roll to fix problems. I’m not sure if none of the customer care people from Competitor wanted to move over to Ironman, or if Ironman was unprepared for the volume of email, but there are a lot of unhappy runners out there on social media. Currently the fastest way to get a response is to contact Rock ‘n’ Roll through their Facebook page, which seems really inefficient especially when many of the inquiries could be handled with the exact same response. (I’ll share it here: Yes, the Rock ‘n’ Roll team are aware that many people are still waiting on Heavy Medals they earned in 2017. Sources say there’s a meeting soon to get to the root of the problem and get medals in hands ASAP. If you’re missing a medal, hang in there!)

Personally, I’m disappointed the new team wasn’t proactive in communicating the cancellations of the Brooklyn and St. Louis races—basically people found out about it after they were removed from the website. This is a huge missed marketing opportunity for Ironman, especially since there are semi-credible rumors that new Rock ‘n’ Roll destinations are on the way. When Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Vancouver races parted ways, everyone who had run Vancouver got an email about the change. This was a great way to help set runner expectations—oh, the races are going forward, they just won’t be part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll series—without having to field a dozen email inquiries about what if you pre-registered, etc.

Pre-season general communications could also have been used to communicate some of the series-wide changes in advance of the races and prevent them from becoming fodder for Facebook page complaints, as well as to put a more positive spin on some of the unpopular changes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t from Ironman but from social media (or at the Expo!) that most people learned the marathon jackets have been discontinued, as have the physical Tour Pass credentials (and the Tour Pass priority check-out line for the Brooks/Rock ‘n’ Roll merchandise area), and the Tour Pass vanity bibs/back bibs.

Registration. Ironman decided to kill Competitor Group’s RaceIt registration system and use Active.com instead. From a financial standpoint, this probably makes the most sense for the company (and may have been contractually required—I don’t have any inside information, but I know a little about business and it is at least a possibility). While some runners have chafed at the increased fees and Tour Pass now has fees added to it, members of the Active Advantage program may wind up ahead…but still pay $40 in fees for the Tour Pass 10-pack. (Active Advantage is the premium subscription for Active. Members save up to $10 in fees per registration, among other perks. If you register for a race and the fees are $5, you don’t pay the $5. The Tour Pass 10-pack fees are about $50, so Advantage members pay $40.)

Confirmations. In years past, each participant got an email to print out a waiver. You’d go to the Rock ‘n’ Roll website, enter your full name and birth date, and (assuming you were registered!) a .pdf document would pop up, pre-populated with your name, address, bib number, and other details. This year I got my email, and went to the website to print the waiver. It only required my last name, and when I pulled up the confirmation page to print, it was blank—I had to hand-write all of the information in myself. While that last part is definitely a #firstworldproblem, I’m a little concerned about only needing my last name to pull up my bib number. If you don’t need to know anything else, it’s pretty easy to print up a confirmation sheet and pretend to be me. Sure, the volunteers at packet pickup are trained to look at each ID before issuing a bib, but the same is true at runDisney races and there are at least two known documented instances of bib theft at the Disneyland races.

Mugs sporting the finisher medal design.

Pre-Race Communications. I’ve run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona marathon once, and the half marathon twice, in addition to a few rounds of the 5k (and that sweet remix medal). Though I opted out of the 5k this year—the December sale price was still a bit higher than I’m willing to pay for anything but a charity 5k—I had initially set my expectations based on my past experiences, all of which were good. (See my review for last year.) The pre-race email from Rock ‘n’ Roll completely changed my expectations. These all communicated that the new Rock ‘n’ Roll experience would be focused on the on-course experience: a band every mile, more food on course, new signage, and other enhancements to the actual race. I also got several emails about the all-new, improved series app with live runner tracking, which I downloaded immediately. Boarding the plane to Phoenix, I was excited to see what the new race experience would be like.

Expo: Entry. My race roommates and I basically went from our planes to the race expo at the convention center downtown. Arizona confuses me a little, as it seems like all the cites overlap each other and are smushed together, yet nothing seems to be near anything else. (If you’re headed to this race, I highly recommend being prepared to Uber and Lyft.) Anyway, we got to the expo safely and strolled right past the “look up my bib” stations because we were prepared. Walking into the expo, the first thing I noticed was the Hall of Fame banner, because it wasn’t there. I usually start my expo by taking selfies with my Hall of Fame friends who aren’t going to the race, so that was a bummer. I hope the Hall of Fame banner debuts at Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans.

One great addition: a station where you can scan your bib to check the timing chip and make sure your information is correct.

Expo: bibs, shirts, and Brooks. It was a quick few minutes and I had my bib in hand. The bibs are basically the same design as last year, with one major improvement: no more shoe timing tags. If you’ve run Rock ‘n’ Roll in the past, you know the routine: pull the plastic strip off of the bib, tear it in half, attach the correct half to a shoe by making a loop. No more. Finally the timing tag is ON the bib, so you don’t have to do anything about it, it’s there. Another improvement? The back of the bib has a pre-printed label with your emergency contact’s name and phone number. This is a great idea. The only complaint I heard is that you cannot fold the bib—which is large—without wrecking the timing chip. This isn’t a problem for me, since I’m tall and I generally put my bib on a race belt or use Race Dots. My shorter and smaller friends have less available real estate for the giant bib would love smaller bibs or a different timing tag. I’m confident that in a race or two they will craft a  hack that takes care of this. Yay, bibs!

All of the 2018 shirts revealed so far feature this graphic with a very slight variation.

The shirts? That’s another story. While I didn’t immediately notice, I overheard several runners complaining about the shirt fabric; on further inspection, it does appear thicker, less soft, and less wicking than the shirts from last year. I don’t know if Ironman fired all of their graphic designers or what, but the shirt is pretty awful. This was an issue with Rock ‘n’ Roll shirts a few years ago—they were all poorly designed and a crazy percentage of them were grey–it was one of the major gripes of the season. For starters, the Arizona shirt is grey. The graphic appears to be the stock image for all of the series shirts this year—the rectangular-shaped object over the bottom that has the race name on it is the only variation. (For New Orleans, it is a street car.) In Arizona, this design would have looked better in colors of the state flag– red, blue, and yellow.  I heard quite a few complaints about the shirts, which is unfortunate as it’s a huge missed opportunity for the race. From the race’s standpoint, the shirt functions as free advertising (as other people will see it, assuming the participants wear it), and it can also serve as a reminder to keep the race in the runner’s memory throughout the year (assuming they wear it) and perhaps plant the seed of running the race again the next year. Hopefully Ironman is listening to runner feedback, since that has always been one of the main reasons the Rock ‘n’ Roll series was beloved by repeat participants, and will make a mid-year course-correction.

In another random twist, the samples inside the gear check bag? A sleep aid and a laxative. Strange combo. (I tossed both. I wish there had been a “no thank you” box for them instead.)

My favorite of the Brooks shirts–great design!

The gear produced by Brooks, in contrast to the official race shirt, was adorable. Brooks had several great designs and colors. Since one of the two things I had forgotten to pack was a hat, I treated myself to a new one—turquoise/teal with embroidered race name on the side. Brooks also had the snazzy new Rock ‘n’ Roll design shoes, a tie-dye print that just made me happy looking at it. The Brooks area also featured an expanded line of Rock ‘n’ Roll race-specific merchandise, from pint glasses and coffee cups to a stuffed animal. The only bummer in this area is that the express lane for Tour Pass holders was gone, again making me think the Tour Pass may not be on the tour next year.

 

 

As you walk into the expo, crossing a timing mat with your bib returns a cheer!

Expo: main expo. Since I had forgotten to pack only two things—the aforementioned had and my sunglasses—my agenda at the expo was to get a hat and a pair of goodr sunglasses. (Sadly, I lost my favorite Maui Jim’s at Disney World, and Maui Jim wasn’t at the expo.) The Arizona expo was small compared to the expo at each of the prior Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona races I attended. Curiously, there were several booths that had nothing to do with running or tourism in Arizona, which are the things I expect to see at a race expo. There was a booth doing some kind of hair extensions, for example. There were two or three booths selling anti-wrinkle creams which was a huge disappointment. I’m hoping this isn’t a trend—there were also aggressive anti-wrinkle cream peddlers at the IDEA World fitness convention in Las Vegas last year, but I attributed that to Las Vegas.  I don’t go to a race expo to have some booth assault me with a “no more Botox” theme. Thanks, I don’t do Botox, I take good care of my skin, and wrinkles are a natural part of aging. Whatever. It was a weird expo, with many of the main race sponsors not there, and several of the regular exhibitors also absent. Overall, the expo was somewhat disappointing, but I assume this was a function of (1) the newly increased booth prices for exhibitors, and (2) the series’ new focus on the on-course experience.

#BlackSheepRun

The parts I liked best about the expo were seeing my friends and trying Tailwind for the first time. One of my friends is now a head honcho with the Spartan Race series expo booths, and we got to catch up. (Look for big things coming from Spartan this year—more races, more stadium sprints, more in-expo experiences.) A bunch of the Rock ‘n’ Roll regulars tend to eventually congregate in the Rock ‘n’ Roll booth to catch up, make plans, and take pictures. Finally, at the Hot Chocolate booth I also had a “hey! I follow you on Instagram!” moment, which is always fun. For me, the best part of running races is all the great runners, and I’m always thrilled to meet people in person who I’ve only seen online.

My new favorite liquid fuel

Tailwind, if you haven’t tried it, is AMAZING. I’ve been wanting to try it for quite awhile, but I hesitate to buy any running fuel that I haven’t taste-tested first. If you’ve tried enough running fuels, you know that not all of them agree with all digestive systems and that you really want to know if one is going to fight you before you buy a bunch of it.  The Tailwind booth had four different flavors of fuel to taste, and two of their recovery drinks (which I skipped for now). Tailwind is a powder you mix with water, and it serves as both fuel and hydration. When mixed as directed it has a thin consistency like water, a very light flavor, and almost no color (Tailwind doesn’t have any artificial colors in it). To my great surprise, not only did I like all of the types of Tailwind I sampled, the orange (yes, orange!) was my favorite. Usually I’m a berry or fruit punch flavor type of runner, and I avoid orange popsicles, orange soda, orange drinks, and orange desserts. Tailwind orange is pretty delicious though. I bought a bag of orange (orange!) at the expo special price, and also some samples (single-serving size) of other flavors. In my mind, this was a major expo win—but more on Tailwind later.

Race Day Preparations and the Starting Line. My crew selected their hotel based on proximity to the finish line at the park. Turns out it was also quite close to the starting line for the half marathon. (The marathon has a smaller field, and a separate start.) The morning of the race I got dressed, mixed up a packet of Tailwind (which dissolved immediately, without extensive mixing/shaking, and without any gritty undissolved bits at all), and headed over to the starting line. Unfortunately, I relied on the app to tell me where the starting line was—and it was wrong. I learned this when I arrived at what I thought was the starting line, only to join about 20 other runners walking over to where the starting line actually was. Bummer.

This would be MUCH easier to read if the entire square had the number. I’m already in the corral area, it’s pretty easy to figure out what the number is.

The starting line did feature new corral markers, which were inflatables instead of cardboard signs. While they were easy to spot, they were difficult to read. The markers are thick material like a bounce house, and they wasted spaced with “corral” and the number sign. To my over-40 eyes, they were actually harder to read from far away than the old sign-on-a-stick (I ended up in the wrong corral initially).

On the bright side, the starting line had pumping music and a ton of energy. We all missed Ann, the usual Rock ‘n’ Roll announcer, who is sidelined with an injury for the time being. The stand-in did a great job of keeping the crowd pumped up though, and there was a lot of fun and fanfare.

The On-Course Experience. Had I stuck to my expectations based on my prior experience running this race, they would all have been met. But as I mentioned earlier, I had received a bunch of email hyping the new focus on the experience during the race and so I was excited to check out the new race experience, so I was looking out for the specific items mentioned in the email.

  • One of the things mentioned in the emails was new signs at the corrals and on the course. The signs on the course were color-coded aid station signs that let runners know what would be offered at the aid station. I definitely appreciated that I could see the signs before I got to the aid station. At the same time, signs are a depreciable asset and need to be replaced every now and then; while I liked the new signs, I see them as more of an ordinary business expense and less of an enhancement for the runners.
  • Food on course. Half marathoners did not get food on the course. (I believe the marathon runners were offered bananas on the course.) Based on the emails, I thought there would be some actual food at the half marathon aid stations.
  • Note the lack of gel at the gel station

    Gel stations. In past years, the half marathon course had one aid station with gel; last year the official gel was Glukos, and prior to that it was Gu. This year, Science in Sport (SiS) is the official gel. Some people love it, others don’t. Since I was experimenting with Tailwind, I didn’t eat gel on the course. It’s good that I wasn’t relying on it, as the pre-race emails all promised me two gel stations on course, but there was NO gel at the first gel aid station. I saw the signs, and they were followed by an empty table and empty boxes. This is a course with a 4-hour time limit. I finished well in advance of the time limit, and was nowhere near the end of the pack. I’m disappointed there wasn’t enough gel for the slower runners at the aid station.

  • Bands Every Mile. The pre-race emails also promised a band every mile. For the first 8 miles, the race delivered: a band every mile! Then the bands dropped off. There is an out-and-back portion of the course (which really needs a timing mat—it’s a known cheat-point as I documented last year) which I get would have been difficult to band-up, but there weren’t any bands for the last several miles. (There was a DJ station, but the DJ left before the course closed.) I’m not sure I need a band every mile, but if you promise me a band every mile and don’t deliver, that’s not good.
  • “On Course Activations.” The pre-race emails promised more of these. When I read them, I thought “wow, this is a badly-worded email” because “activation” is a jargony-PR term that basically means something interactive with a brand. (So, for example, the opportunity to take a test-drive in a Toyota at the expo is an activation.) Historically, the on-course activations have been things like the inspiration zone with encouraging quotes put up by Alaska Airlines in Seattle. The only one I noticed at this race was the Toyota zone DJ.

Overall, I had a good experience on the course. Post-Dopey I was walking, and I didn’t stop at Bosa Donuts this year, but the weather was gorgeous and the course has some scenic spots. I figured this out around mile 11, when I was thinking I’d never run this race again but then realized it was because the race wasn’t meeting my expectations—ALL expectations set up by the pre-race emails.

Tailwind. Side note, remember how I tried Tailwind at the expo? I mixed some up for the race and carried it with me. Instead of taking Powerade during the race, I sipped on Tailwind throughout the course. (I did take a few cups of water at some of the aid stations, but no extra fuel.) I only carried one bottle (size: Camelbak podium, Nuun bottle) and it lasted the entire course. I never got sick of the taste, which is very light. My tummy stayed happy the entire time, and even after the race I wasn’t starving and ready to hoover all of the foods. I’m so excited to have found Tailwind! If you haven’t tried it, you really should!

Finish line. The finish line was just like it has always been, with some adjustments to the post-race snacks. I grabbed a bottle of water and a post-race chocolate milk as I usually do (though Gatorade was also available). I took a banana. Snacks consisted of a granola bar (the plain hard granola kind), pretzels, and Pringles.  Personally, I really miss when the granola bar was a Power Bar (the thicker ones with the cake-like consistency); everyone who knows anything about sports nutrition knows you’re supposed to put some protein in the tank within the first 30 minutes after an endurance event. (This made me extra thankful for the chocolate milk!) I also miss the Del Monte fruit cups, though they were logistically a bit of a pain.

Finisher Festival. Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona has one of the best finisher festivals of the series! We had a great band, per usual, and a series of food trucks from the Maine lobster guys who were on Shark Tank to a truck that served really great pretzels shaped like giant moustaches. It’s a great atmosphere, and a ton of people come to watch the band. We had great weather, though it was very, very sunny. Normal for Arizona, but kind of brutal after running a race.

Bling. The medal is cute, and features a cactus and bright colors. Unlike the generic design for the race shirts, the race medals this year are more race-themed, though to date every medal revealed is a guitar-pick shape with brightly-colored and cartoony artwork. The ribbon is a wide, satin-y ribbon with a colorful design and the race information, and I expect these will continue to be the standard (especially after the strong runner feedback several years back requesting them).

Marathon Zone. As I mentioned, I didn’t run the marathon this year (though the year I did run the marathon, I would have loved to have a marathon zone!). The Marathon Zone was one of several special perks just for marathoners. This was part of the focus on the race experience (and, I assume, added to assuage the hurt feelings of the marathoners who signed up to run Arizona last January and thought they were getting a marathon finisher jacket). Other marathon specials were the bananas on the course, and a red carpet (literally) at the finish line. Back to the Marathon Zone, which was a separate area for marathoners only. Inside there was a separate spread of food, including pizzas and Snickers bars, and a massage tent with free massages.

While the theory was nice, the concept was poorly executed. For one, there was no shade at all in the Marathon Zone, other than the massage tent. As I mentioned earlier, the mid-day finish meant straight-on Arizona sun for the finish. The Snickers bars melted completely (I saw examples). There were zero marathoners sitting on the chairs out in the full-sun. In contrast, the VIP area had umbrellas over at least some of the tables. For two, the Marathon Zone was far from the stage so it wasn’t possible to watch the headliner concert and enjoy the pizza and massages—you had to leave the area to watch the concert. In contrast, the VIP area was within the sight-lines of the stage. Finally, the entire marathon zone was shut down before the marathon course was finished. In other words, even if you finished the race within the time limits, you might not get to enjoy the amenities because they had already been disassembled. (This is the case for some friends of mine.) If you are going to have special amenities for the marathoners, they should be available to ALL marathoners who finish within the course time limits. (Instead, random people were handed entire pizzas as they shut down the Marathon Zone, while my marathoner friends arrived to find an empty field.)

Ultimately, I’d run this race again–and recommend it to you, too. Next time, I won’t let the pre-race hype emails set up my expectations though. It’s still early in the season, and there was a post-race survey that I’m sure plenty of runners filled out, so I’m sure the proud new owners of Rock ‘n’ Roll have plenty of information. I hope they choose to carry on the Rock ‘n’ Roll legacy of responsiveness to runner feedback–and maybe tone down the promises in the pre-race emails.

I Kahnt believe I met Melissa of Run, Heifer, Run!

 

Did you run Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona this year? How was the marathon? The 5k? The mile? Will I see you at any of the other races I’m planning to run this year?

Where else will I rock 2018?

  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Seattle
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • San Dieg0
  • San Antonio
  • Las Vegas
  • Denver? New Orleans? Hm…

It’s that season again! No, I don’t mean the season of shopping for holidays (that’s another post for another time), but the season for Ambassadorship Applications! Before you open every browser window and apply to all the things, pause; should you really apply to that program?

Disclosure: I participate in several ambassador programs, and have worked with others in the past. (You can see them all on my Integrity First page.) No brands, races, or ambassador programs have asked me to write about them. In fact, no one knows I’m writing this post except the people quoted/shown below–they got a preview. Everything here is 100% my opinion–but I’d love to hear yours, too!

What’s an “Ambassador”? If you grew up in the 1970s (or before), you remember tons of television commercial celebrity product endorsements. For some reason, people tended to have a better opinion of something if it had a celebrity endorsement–regardless of the quality of the product. While that is still the truth in some cases, celebrity endorsements are expensive and only available to brands with big dollars to spend. Also, most of us have grown a little jaded. First, we all know that the big brands are paying for “product placement” in movies and on TV (e.g. the Coca-Cola cups on American Idol, always set perfectly so you can read them). Second, many celebrities have started to endorse products and concepts that are not only disproven by science (e.g. that vaccines are a direct cause of autism) but also are potentially dangerous (e.g. pretty much anything any celebrity has recommended you put in your vagina). In recent years, brands and events have turned to their fans to help spread the word about their products and services. In a world where people rely on their friends and social media for information, this makes total sense–aren’t you more likely to try something you know your friend just loves?

While every ambassador program is different, in general ambassadors have specific duties they perform in exchange for free product, a free race entry, swag, and/or other perks. The majority of the ambassador programs I have seen refer to their ambassadors as the ambassador team, but many also have special names for their ambassadors that are associated with their products. For example, the Honey Stinger ambassador team is called The Hive, and the Tailwind ambassadors are Tailwind Trailblazers. Most product ambassadorships last for a calendar year, so November and December have a lot of application deadlines. (Race ambassadorships may follow the race’s “calendar year,” starting a few months after the race and ending on race day.) Some programs continue from year-to-year so once you’re “in” you’re in, though the majority don’t auto-renew–you have to reapply every year.

An ambassador program connected me to everyone here in one way or another

Should You Apply?

Do I love the product/event? If you don’t love it, don’t apply. Period. Ambassador programs only work well if the participants legitimately like (and use!) the product, or are genuinely excited about the race or event (which doesn’t necessarily mean you are a past participant). It’s not just about what the company gets out of it though: it reflects poorly on you to promote a product you’ve never used, or to promote an event you have no intention of doing.

Do I have realistic expectations? Do you know what also reflects poorly on you? Sour grapes if you’re not accepted! Every year I’m shocked to see tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts to the tune of “XYZ didn’t pick me to be an ambassador. Again. They always pick the same people. Whine, whine, gripe. I’m never using XYZ product/running XYZ race again!” While these comments don’t reflect poorly on the product/event/brand, they DO reflect poorly on the post-er.  The majority of ambassador programs have a limited number of spots and far more applications than they have places. If you apply to a program and are not accepted, you have no idea why–and it might not have anything to do with you! Maybe there were a large number of applications from your geographic area, and preference goes to people in other areas. Maybe your strength is on your blog, but they really needed a Snap maven. Maybe your main sport is running, but the brand wants to branch out into other sports. Maybe it just wasn’t a good fit from the team’s perspective. Just like colleges, and jobs, and awards, you don’t get everything you apply to. You’re not entitled to anything 🙂

Am I willing to commit to that product/event for the year? There are really two parts to this. One, it should go without saying that as an ambassador, you do not promote competing products or events. If you are an ambassador for Pro Compression, for example, you should be perfectly happy to NOT be on social media or at events wearing any competing brand (and even give a thought to giving away those other socks). I wrote “it should go without saying,” but I’m saying it because while it SHOULD, it’s one of those “common sense isn’t very common” things. Are you really serving Health Warrior if your social media is filled with Trader Joe’s chia bars?  Two, if you apply for an ambassador program you should be willing and able to fulfill all of the requirements for that program. Detroit Free Press/Chemical Bank Marathon Ambassadors, for example, are required to work a shift at the information booth during the race expo; Represent Running Ambassadors are required to work a packet pickup (unless they are remote ambassadors). If you’re unwilling or unable, don’t apply.

What are the ambassador program’s requirements? Every program has different requirements. You might be required to post a badge on your blog (if you have one), or to make announcements on social media channels to promote the product/event; create content for the brand’s website such as a photograph, review, or blog post; wear branded gear to events you attend/compete in; work at an expo booth to promote the race; create a post-event review; serve as a leader for a warm-up run; work at the event itself to ensure it runs smoothly; or any number of other things. Sure, life happens, and maybe you committed to an event before you knew you would be seven months pregnant and on bed rest, or nursing a leg broken in a skiing accident, or taking in your brother’s kids for the year, or laid off from your job and unable to travel to the event. Everyone gets that there are unforeseeables that might prevent you from fulfilling your duties and most programs will give you a pass if that’s your situation. As a general rule, you should be confident you can do what the program requires. Read the program description carefully, and make sure you understand the requirements.

Hi there! If you are enjoying this, please click here to share this article on Twitter. Thanks!Click To Tweet

Can I live with all of the ambassador program’s restrictions? Again, it should be a no-brainer that you can agree to not promote competing products. Other restrictions vary widely by program. For example, the Bib Rave Pro Team members can only have a limited number of other ambassadorships. If the event’s sponsor is Adidas, you might be asked to avoid wearing gear with competing logos while you work at the expo. Again, read the program description carefully, and make sure you understand what you can and can’t do. If you can’t abide by the program’s restrictions, don’t apply.

Do I have the time/resources/bandwidth to fulfill the requirements and do a great job? If you have a full-time job and a full life, consider how much time and energy you have to devote to each of the programs you are considering. Even if you can wrap your head around 12 different ambassadorships at once, and somehow not give your blog more badges than a Girl Scout, most of us do not have the time to put into that many ambassador projects in a single year. Be realistic about what your other commitments are and how you will balance them with the programs you hope to work with this year.

Briana (of mat.miles.medals) met Dani, Libby, and Brandi through the Sparkly Soul ambassador program. New friends are one of the benefits of being an ambassador–and you already have something in common.

You WANT to apply, but will you do an awesome job?

Five guaranteed tips to be a rockstar ambassador!

First, Do All The Things. A great ambassador fulfills all of their requirements. Make a checklist and get it done! If you are required to work an expo shift or a promo booth, do the whole shift–seriously, sneaking out early isn’t cool–and if the event is really hard-up for help, consider offering to do another shift. Some things don’t have specifications, such as “help promote the race.” At a minimum, you should help spread the word for the big events (such as pre-registration specials, discount days, etc.), but think of that minimum as a floor, not a ceiling. The ambassadors might only be required to post one Instagram post, but creating two or three wouldn’t be that much more work. Just like in a team sport, as an ambassador you should strive to be an asset to your team.

I have had the honor to be a part of the Represent family for two years. The first year I was a posting fanatic and helped at as many packet pickup as I could. This second year life got in the way and I was only able to volunteer once (as per the requirements) but I felt guilty for not posting about the race events as avidly as I did the prior year. — Ashley of Every Runner Counts

Second, support your teammates! Lots of ambassador programs have some kind of forum they use to communicate. It might be a private Facebook group, a Slack channel, or a dedicated members-only website. Some are chatty, others are quiet, but all exist to help the ambassadors help each other. Every ambassador group has a wide range of people in it who differ in beliefs, sizes, preferences, and experience. When a new runner posts their new 5k PR, don’t ask if they crawled–congratulate them and encourage them to beat it. When someone is disappointed with a race result, don’t roll your eyes and tell them to get over it–say something kind, or keep your mouth (keyboard?) shut. Kindness is FREE, spread that sh*t everywhere.

Third, view every bit of swag and every perk as a gift. Many ambassador programs provide little extras, such as extra products, or gifts from race sponsors. Chances are that you’re not going to like everything–and you don’t have to–but think of everything as a gift and mind your manners. I’m a vegetarian, for example, so I really have no use at all for a bag of KRAVE jerky. I’m not going to eat it (it’s meat), and it’s not authentic for me to give a shout-out or otherwise promote it. If one of my ambassador programs mailed me a box of KRAVE, I wouldn’t mark the box “refused, return to sender” or make a big stink about how inappropriate it was in the ambassador chat group. Instead, I would ask the ambassador wrangler if it would be okay to pass the jerky on to a friend, if I should pass it on to another ambassador, or if the donor/sponsor/brand would prefer I return the package. Bottom line, you don’t have to love and adore every race sponsor or every bit of swag offered to you, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it either.

Remember that it’s an honor to be chosen, and use this opportunity to better get to know the people working for your brand and your fellow ambassadors. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had with the brands (trying new products, etc.). The experience with the people was a perk I didn’t expect going in, and I’ve made some wonderful friendships along the way that will stay with me beyond my time as an ambassador. —Briana of mat.miles.medals.

Fourth, stay positive. Nothing says “bad ambassador” more than talking smack about the brand you’re supposed to be representing! Be honest, but don’t trash the product/event. It’s okay to say you’re disappointed about ABC, or that a new product offering isn’t right for you. Frankly it can seem fake if you always absolutely adore every aspect of the brand/company/race you are representing.

Fifth, give honest feedback. (About the race, or brand, and about the ambassador program.) As an ambassador, you are in a position to hear feedback that the race director or brand does not. As Briana points out, “some brands tap into their ambassadors to get a temperature check of how a concept or idea might be received. Depending on the group, and your comfort level, you can elevate feedback to people who can do something with it. But remember to keep it constructive.” Finally, ambassador programs evolve each year, and the program managers are generally open to hearing about your experiences. What worked and what didn’t? I was frustrated when one race sent us flyers and posters to distribute–two weeks before the race. I loved it when another group moved from Facebook groups to Slack. Sharing your positive experiences, and providing constructive feedback about the not-so-positive ones, will help support the race or the brand by making next year’s program even better.

 

So…Should You Apply?

What’s your experience as a brand ambassador?

Which ambassador programs are currently accepting applications?

Disclosure: For the past few years I have been a member of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team, the ambassadors for the Rock ‘n’ Roll series. I’ve tried to blog about each of the races I’ve run, but I do have a day-job and there are only so many hours in the day…and thankfully posting about every race is not a requirement. The 2017 has not yet been selected (applications close on February 22nd, so if you are interested click HERE for the application), but I did apply. Just in case you’re not already aware of any potential bias I may have.

In New Orleans, bling happens

Don’t skip this one. I almost didn’t go to Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans due to stress at home and at work (and travel is stressful too) but man I am glad that I did! My flight left Oakland unreasonably early, and I arrived around 1 p.m. Pro Tip: if you’re just jetting away for the race and coming back again, pack light–check the weather first, but always pack something warm and dry in case of rain.

Friday I took a brief nap before my roommate arrived. We stayed at the Aloft, which is within walking distance of the half marathon starting line and not far from the marathon starting line. It was just a short walk to the convention center–and then another 2k to get to the other side of the convention center (it’s HUGE). Just before the convention center we picked up free samples of Monster’s new “Mutant” brand soda. I think this is supposed to compete with Mountain Dew, as it is a citrus-flavored soda in the standard 20 oz. soda bottle and packs 115mg of caffeine. Before cracking the lid I read the label–it also packs 290 calories and 70 grams of sugar! No, no thank you.

Rock ‘n’ Royalty

The Expo wasn’t huge, but it definitely had a New Orleans flavor, and more local participation than I see at many Rock ‘n’ Roll expos. Of course the ubiquitous green, gold, and purple of Mardi Gras featured prominently, and local running clubs and events had booths. I appreciated the healthy New Orleans resources (New Orleans is known for great food, but not necessarily health food), the bakery sampling (looked like King Cake, but was really a tiny croissant filled with cream and covered in sprinkles). As a New Orleans Mardi Gras krewe has its king and queen, so did Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans, complete with a coronation, confetti, and beads.

Missing our Hall of Famer, @matmilesmedals

Following the expo it was time to look for dinner. As I perused Urban Spoon and Google in what used to be the nook where the pay phones lived, a woman interrupted our discussion. “Excuse me,” she said, “are you looking for a place for dinner? Would you like some suggestions?” From a local? In a town known for amazing food? Heck yes!! We ended up at ___, which had a pan-Caribbean menu and everything from red meat to vegan dishes, plus a bar and amazing drink specials.

Like every other runner at Aloft, we too Lyft to the 5k. The location was perfect for a run, but less than ideal for actually getting there. One suggestion I’m sure LOTS of people made: provide transportation from central points in the various neighborhoods to the race start. We arrived as part of a convoy of Lyft and Uber and taxis. The starting line was just a short walk away. Also, it was freezing. I had packed for the weather that happened earlier in the week, and didn’t have an extra long sleeve for the 5k. Oops.

Me and “Gracie”

It was great to have Ann back to announce the races (she’d been out on maternity leave and while the guy who announced in her place was trying and did okay, he just wasn’t Ann). Prior to the race I ran into Derek, a Team RWB member who is continuing his quest to do a 5k every month, and my friend “Gracie” and her husband. The latter was something of a miracle, as we have repeatedly been at the same race but not managed to see each other. In lieu of trying to run any of it, I decided to walk to Gracie so we could catch up and have photographic rvidence of this monumental event. (Selfies or it didn’t happen, right?) The 5k was entirely within the park, whiich is freaking enornmous, The weather warmed up a little, but not too too much–my friends who ran were cold as soon as they stopped. The course passed by public art, a museum, and (of course!) music. I don’t claim to know what “the New Orleans sound” is, but I can tell you what the “I am a tourist here” music sounds like.

Obligatory hurricane in a geaux cup

I took a shower and a nap while my roommate did the swim and bike sections of his triathlon preparation workout, and then we wandered off to grilled cheese and a Rock ‘n’ Blogger meet up. From there I played tour guide–despite the fact I hadn’t been to NOLA since I lived in Austin–and we walked the French Quarter,  checked out the insane line at Cafe du Monde, and gawked at architecture. Tourist day, for certain. There were snacks, some down time, and dinner, and then it was an early night to bed for us.

The next morning came too soon, and it was off to the races–literally. There was what looked like a great turnout for the half marathon, with plenty of silly costumes and Rock ‘n’ Roll spirit. Miraculously, I saw Gracie again, and we started to walk the course together. Since I was still feeling tight and regularly seeing my sports med person, I didn’t want to try to kill it. This means I missed the mimosa “aid stations” but I can’t complain. I decided to Instagram as I walked the first six miles. Perhaps the rest of the story is best told in pictures.

Preventing waffle crush
This was voted “best race sign” by virtue of being all over social media pretty much instantly

 

Stately architecture
Enjoying this? Why not share with friends. 'Did you see these highlights at #RnRNOLA? @runrocknroll and @trainwithbain rocked it!'Click To Tweet
I found Touchdown Jesus!

 

Runner buffet with bloody mary bar

 

Fun fact! Milk punch = milk + half and half + bourbon = no pain for at least 2 miles #questionablehydrationstrategy

 

Mobile bunny-petting aid station

 

HQ for the Mystic Krewe of Hermes, the longest-running night parade krewe

 

Cheer signs both political and traditional

 

Beer and Wieners aid station

 

Bet you didn’t know NOLA has a vibrant Celtic music scene, and many Irish dance schools!

 

Mobile disco party complete with dancers, DJ, and a disco ball!

 

Finish line at the park–check out the tree canopy!

 

Parting airport shot with @funnerrunner (telltale signs of runners: @addaday roller, @sparklysoul headband, matching @runrocknroll shirts)

 

Note: For the 2015 and 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll series, I have been honored to be part of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team. The 2017 Rock ‘n’ Blog team applications have not yet opened, so I haven’t a clue if they will decide to keep me on. In the meanwhile, I bought a TourPass so I could start to rock my way in the direction of Hall of Fame (15 Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathons or marathons in a single year). Fingers crossed!

Compulsory 5K selfie

It started off quite innocently. At the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas half marathon in 2015 I suddenly had a desperate hankering for coffee. Coffee isn’t a standard offering at any race’s aid stations. As I wrote in my race recap, “Around mile 9 I really, really wanted coffee. I’d had my electrolytes, downed my EnergyBits, and my body (even Ouch) seemed to be demanding some caffeination. For the next mile or so, all of the potential coffee-acquisition opportunities were on the other side of the road, across traffic. Cruel world! Then I saw it: Oak Lawn Coffee.”

 

 

 

Overpass detail of local art

Seriously, Oak Lawn Coffee MADE MY RACE that year (and not just because they let me use the bathroom too). I was so happy to have a cup of very yummy coffee in my hands that I finished the race with a huge grin on my face…and made a similar coffee stop at Rock ‘n’ Roll  San Francisco that year. Then I posed at the finish line with the Nestle Quik bunny because a mocha is basically chocolate milk, right? #buildit

(It’s good I’m not a triathlete, as I’m sure this counts as “outside aid” which is strictly prohibited by the triathlon over-see-ing group.)

It continued into the zone of silliness at Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose 2016, where I was really, really hungry by the time I came around the corner to see Five Guys. (Pro tip: don’t order a large fries. For starters, the large is really, really large.) Not only was I laughing that I was walking the last mile or so of the race with a big ol’ french fries in hand, a lot of the spectators and other runners were laughing too. I laughed my way all the way to the finish line. As an adult, I think the ability to amuse yourself is seriously underrated.

Since this is a post about Arizona, here’s a picture of a succulent

Since I don’t run for time, a PR, or to podium in any way, I take full advantage of ways to make the race more fun. That’s why I do races–they are fun. When people ask me what my pace is, I literally tell them, “stop and pet the cute puppies.” If they ask again, I tell them, “approximately three puppies per hour.” (Having fun is serious business, after all.) I stop to take ridiculous selfies, just because I can. I run to the edge of the road and high-five the kids.

(Enjoying this? Why not click to tweet so your friends can read it too?) Red Rocks and Donuts in the Desert: @TrainWithBain does Rock 'n' Roll Arizona 2017 #RnRAZClick To Tweet
A huge part of why I like races is getting to meet new friends

Let me pause for a minute here, and explain WHY I do this. No, it’s not just to annoy the snooty fast runners who dislike that I’m not “racing.” (They seem to forget that the fact that I–and thousands of people just like me–do dozens of races a year, seriously driving up the demand for running events, and as a result there are more races for the fast people to win. Fortunately, most of the runners I’ve met are awesome and are not whining about how “back in the day” we all would have been swept and not given a tee-short.) Sure, in part it is because I can–and the fact that I can amuses me to no end–but there’s a deeper reason: I am a bona-fide Type-A, overachiever list-maker, to-do doer, check-off-the-things person. It serves me well at work (and sometimes when I’m cleaning house), but I know if I applied my natural tendencies to running I would quickly sap every last ounce of joy from running, and instead of relieving stress running would cause more stress. So I have forbidden  myself to get “serious” about running. Running is for fun only. Of course, your mileage may vary–and I do admire those of you who focus on that BQ or PR or other abbreviations.

A slightly blurry pre-5k shot of me and Jackie and flat-Jackie

Back to Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona, since this is supposed to be a race recap. I had flown in late on Friday, so had to pick up my bib at the last minute (aka right before the race). A flock of volunteers were on  hand to assist with this process, there were no lines (did I mention we got there a bit late?), and I was quickly off to the starting line with my friend Jackie, aka my adventure running roommate. Jackie had to head to work shortly after the 5k, so she didn’t run. Of course technically neither did I, as I’d made a deliberate decision to stroll the 5k course and save some juice for the half marathon (remember, I did the Dopey Challenge the week before).

The 5k had a pretty good turnout of runners and walkers of all shapes, ages, heights, intentions, and experience levels. The weather cooperated, and I enjoyed looking at the desert in “winter.” Compared to the half marathon though, it was a much smaller race. For Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona, all of the races finish in the same location.

Question, readers: if you voluntarily, randomly decided to cut two miles from a half marathon by just skipping them, would you still take the medal at the finish line? Would you wear the race shirt? Would you tell people “I did a half marathon” when you only did 11ish miles?

On Sunday, the half and the marathon start in two different locations, but merge just before the very end. The morning of the half it was a little chilly and threatening to rain, but I managed to stay dry. This was my first time doing this course–previously I did the full–and I really enjoyed it. Jackie and I were in separate corrals, so I don’t have any running pictures with her. I do, however, have this picture she took of several people who decided they didn’t want to go up the hill to the turnaround (and it wasn’t even a big hill–and the views from the top were gorgeous–and Jackie asked what they were doing because, of course, maybe they were injured or something, but no, they told her they didn’t want to walk up up the hill); as a result, they cut about two miles off from the course. On the road, as in life, cheaters gonna cheat, and some people are just not willing to put in the effort to actually do the job.

Epic Donut Selfie

I will always do my best to finish the race I set out to run, until I finish, or am yanked from the course involuntarily. (If you find me face down on the pavement, be a dear and pause my watch, ok?) But that’s because I actually like races. Oh, but this is supposed to be a story about coffee and french fries or something.

Last fall several skirt companies put out skirts with donuts on them. Donuts are something of a running joke–like a joke among many groups of runners–and I’ve been known to say #runalltheraces then #eatallthefoods so naturally I needed a donut skirt. (In case you want one too, head to Chase This Skirt on Etsy. Go like ’em on Facebook, too.) This has led to many donut-photo shenanigans because, you know, donuts after a race always seem like a good idea.

Have you every stopped for a snack during a half marathon? Would you? @TrainWithBain has and would!Click To Tweet
Post-race epic donut selfie with @crantina

If donuts after the race are a good idea–and extensive research has definitely confirmed they are–what about donuts during a race? Crazy, right?

That’s what I thought, as I was running down the road in Arizona, when I saw a donut shop right across the street. It was just sitting there, begging for me to befriend it. The open sign was on. I could imagine the scent of tasty donuts. After debating whether I should cross the street and grab a snack for about five minutes (good thing I’m slow, right?) when suddenly there was a  very long break in the traffic. No cars driving by, and no cars about to drive by for miles. Decision made.

I looked both ways–even though this was effectively a one-way street now (thanks, Mom)–and dashed across to Bosa Donuts. About the time I hit the front door a guy and the kid with him arrived at the door. He looked at me, decked out in race garb; he saw the bib, and gave me a quizzical look as he opened the door for me. “Life is short,” I said. “Choose joy! Eat donuts!” Bosa smelled like heaven should smell, and there was no line at the counter. As I politely asked for (runner brain kicked in, what is that thing called, the one there?) “one chocolate coconut donut, please” the guy and the kid arrived at the counter. “I’m buying,” he said to the lady behind the counter, and then turned to me, “get whatever you need.” I smiled and laughed, and explained that I only “needed” one donut. The lady behind the counter handed it to me in a bag.

I knew what I had to do:

Thank you, random Arizona guy!

As I took (much smaller than shown) bites and headed to the door, I noticed the puzzled looks from the folks sitting at the table eating their donuts. “Life is short,” I said. “Choose joy!” as I dashed out the door…and again looked both ways before I crossed the street.

Other runners were totally jealous of my donut (note for next time, I should get some to share) as it never occurred to them to get their own. Poor runners. I spent the next few miles laughing my butt off about my mid-race donut selfie, complete with actual donut. I couldn’t stop grinning. (Again with how underrated the ability to amuse yourself is.)

This is why I run, kids. JOY!

 

 

I just love old police cars!
I just love old police cars!

My good friend Tina came to town to run the Golden Gate Half Marathon and when she mentioned it to her friend Jerry, he invited us to the 2016 Heroes Run. Since Tina and I are both fans of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Remix Challenges, we figured we would create our own remix–good friends + good cause + excuse to wear a silly costume = great event, right? Game on.

My very favorite spectator. I even got permission to pet him. Court
My very favorite spectator. I even got permission to pet him. (photo courtesy of the Heroes Run and (c)2016 Photography by Busa)

Good Friends. Tina and I met through Rock ‘n’ Blog, and she met Jerry through some other running-related event. I’ve found the vast majority of runners are good people, in that they are at a minimum encouraging and kind (though of course there are a few duds in every bunch). In general, I’ve found that any friend of a friend is bound to be a friend of mine, and Jerry was no exception. How can you not love a guy who will paint his beard green for a race?

©2016 Photography By Busa
Every Super Hero needs a super villain, right? Jerry, Tina, and I couldn’t resist playing with the photo booth post run! (photo courtesy of the Heroes Run and ©2016 Photography By Busa)

One of Tina’s other friends was also at the race, and we strolled most of it together. I find it pretty funny that I went to a race that’s basically in my backyard and didn’t know anyone, but the girl from Calgary did.

Did you run the 2016 Heroes Run in Santa Clara County? @TrainWithBain did! Add it to your calendar for 2017!Click To Tweet

Good Cause. The Heroes run benefits the Valley Medical Center Pediatrics. You probably think of Silicon Valley as an area filled with over-privileged, wealthy Google employees, but that’s just part of the story. Like San Francisco, Santa Clara County is economically diverse. As the cost of basic living expenses (like rent) rises, it gets harder for those on the margins to pay for basic human needs such as health care, and those that suffer the most are those least in a position to do anything about it: children. As the Heroes Run website explains:

Santa Clara Valley Medical Center is the public, safety-net medical center for Santa Clara County, providing care to all regardless of ability to pay. As the largest provider of health services to low-income children in the region, SCVMC plays a leading role in the fight against health disparities in Silicon Valley.

To the side of the starting area there were several booths with information and treats from local health initiatives, the police and fire fighters, and local ballot measures (this was before election day, last weekend to get out the word). To add to the fun, the Santa Clara County police and fire fighters participate in the 5k run and an obstacle course, and compete against each other. Police and fire fighters stick around to cheer on the kids’ race, pose for pictures with current and vintage vehicles, and otherwise interact with the community they serve.

Captain America arrives by helicopter to start the kids' races, of course (photo courtesy of the Heroes Run and ©2016 Photography By Busa)
Captain America arrives by helicopter to start the kids’ races, of course (photo courtesy of the Heroes Run and ©2016 Photography By Busa)

Excuse to Wear a Silly Costume. Costumes? Count me in! While I might not have the time to create elaborate outfits from scratch right now, I’ve got the basics in my costume boxes. Item, one bright red cape (originally created for a Thor costume, has also served as a skirt), plus a Superman tech shirt, plus my bright red shoes, and I’m a superhero!

Princess Leia, one of the walkers, would go for a block and then "leia" on the ground for a nap. (photo courtesy of the Heroes Run)
Princess Leia, one of the walkers, would go for a block and then “leia” on the ground for a nap. (photo courtesy of the Heroes Run)

Great Event! The day actually featured multiple events. The 5k wound through the neighborhoods filled with gorgeous autumn trees (about time, since it was November already), and accommodated both serious runners (there were awards) and walkers.

My superhero twin, taking a "paws" in the proceedings.
My superhero twin, taking a “paws” in the proceedings.

While there were plenty of kids seriously running with their parents, or walking the 5k, there was a separate kids’ dash for the smaller kids. That event ran around the edges of the park block, and took place after the main 5k. It was great to see so many kids out dressed as superheroes, and I really loved some of the mashups.

The start for the kids courtesy of ©2016 Photography By Busa
The start for the kids’ race (courtesy of the Heroes Run and ©2016 Photography By Busa)

There was also an inflatable bounce-house type of thing, but it was extra large and had inflatable obstacles, like a wall to climb over and a bunch of tubes to push through. It reminded me of American Ninja Warrior for kids. As I mentioned previously, there was also an adult obstacle course.  The main race had a competition between the police and the fire fighters. This appears to be a new feature, with a travelling trophy to the winners.

A few of the heroes, sporting their team's medallions (courtesy of the Heroes Run and ©2016 Photography By Busa)
A few of the heroes, sporting their team’s medallions (courtesy of the Heroes Run and ©2016 Photography By Busa)

Overall, it was a really fun event. It was all-inclusive, with plenty of room for spectators, and friendly to people and families of all ages. I wasn’t in it to run the fastest or win a prize, but to have a good time (and pet the cute puppies, of course!). While I know the money went to a good cause, what I appreciated most was seeing so many parents and older siblings encouraging little kids to run, play in the inflatable obstacle course, and otherwise be active. It is the main reason I enjoy these community events so much.

How about you? What’s your favorite local 5k?

Disclosure: I received a pair of Legend Compression socks for testing purposes because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.

If you’ve been following along, you know that socks are my jam. Even before I started running, I had two large dresser drawers filled with socks. (With the addition of compression socks, they have now spilled into a third drawer. Clearly it’s time to get rid of some t-shirts so I have more room.) Naturally I leaped at the opportunity to try Legend Compression socks.

Fresh out of the package and ready for testing--instructions included!
Fresh out of the package and ready for testing–instructions included!

By the way, if you want a concise, bullet-pointed, reader friendly review (plus pictures of the cute yellow socks!) you’re in the wrong place. Try BibRave Pro Casey‘s review instead.  (BibRave Pro Janelle also did a less verbose review, but she picked the same aqua color that I did.)

See how those socks are leg-shaped and not tube-shaped? Yeah, that’s the mark of a quality sock right there. (Otherwise how could the compression be graduated?) They have the size marked on them, which initially made me worry I had two left socks. Nope! While I’m on the topic of shape, the “Wear 101” card that came with the socks is helpful in case you’ve never tried compression and I’m surprised other brands don’t include it. Basics: to put them on, bunch up the sock and get your foot in there first, toes then heel; then begin to pull them on from the bottom (as opposed to pulling on the top edge of the sock). To take them off, reverse the directions (don’t just yank on the toes!). Store flat with their friends. I’m used to struggling with compression socks, like they are a girdle for your calves, but Legend isn’t like that. BibRave Pro Chris also loved how easy they were to get on and off.

The first try-on! NO seams. Wraps around the arch of the foot without squeezing. Cushion in the toe and heel. Sweat-wicking too!
The first try-on! NO seams. Wraps around the arch of the foot without squeezing. Cushion in the toe and heel. Sweat-wicking too!

Legend is based in North Carolina. All of their compression performance socks, leg sleeves, and recovery socks are made in the USA. That by itself is a huge plus for me. Even better, the founder, John Thomas, spent 30 years working in the medical industry (where compression products are tightly regulated, unlike the sports products on the market) and ran the largest compression manufacturing facility in the world.

Compression socks are like a happy little hug for your legs. But don’t just take my word for it; BibRave Pro Chadd is also a compression lover, as is BibRave Pro Christine. Check out his blog for pictures of these unisex socks in black. BibRave Pro Nora is also a compression fan (she opted for a classic white, since Legend was kind enough to let us choose colors, while BibRave Pro Jen picked classic black.)

They are not just “tight socks” however. Think of how your blood circulates in your body, with arteries taking fresh, oxygenated blood from your heart to your muscles, and veins bringing back the “used up” blood. Veins are closer to the skin and less muscular than arteries, so they are more susceptible to a hug from a nice sock. Since the veins in your legs are helping to move blood back to your heart, they are working against the pull of gravity. When you work out or run, your muscles need more oxygenated blood (hence your pulse speeds up and your heart works harder), which means your muscles produce more de-oxygenated, used-up blood, and those little veins have to work harder. The theory is that giving those veins a little hug helps to give them a leg up (you know I couldn’t resist!).

Look, I'm on a roll! I crack myself up, but really, compression plus the Nano Roller is the best!
Look, I’m on a roll! I crack myself up, but really, compression plus the Nano Roller is the best!

From personal experience, I can tell you that compression also helps reduce the amount of movement in your legs. Okay wait, let me explain that… If you are a woman, you’re familiar with the difference between a good sports bra (keeps your breasts from bouncing all over the place) and a bad one (lets your breasts swing from side to side and bounce up and down); if you’re a man, you may have similar observations from seeing female runners. Compression socks basically do the same thing as a good sports bra, hugging your muscles and other tissues a little tighter to the bone, reducing the amount of bounce. I have big ol’ soccer player calves (they are strong and muscular, and while they prevent loads of cute boots from fitting, I love them for their strength), so I am a fan of compression.

The amount of compression in a sock is measured in millimeters of mercury. Legwear sold as medical grade compression is tightly regulated (no pun intended!) while the “recreational” flavor of compression is not regulated the same way. This is one of the reasons it matter that Legend founder John Thomas has a background in medical compression. (Think about it; if graduated compression helps, what if the compression is reversed or otherwise messed up? #BadNews) Legend Compression Performance Socks are 15-20 mmHG of graduated compression.

Other benefits of the Legend compression socks (the performance socks!) include:

  • UV protections
  • cushioned toe and heel
  • moisture wicking material
  • breathability

I have really weird feet, so I prefer to run in double-layered socks and compression sleeves for long runs, but the Legend Compression Performance Socks were delicious for 5k and 10k.  BibRave Pro Brie wore hers for trail running, where I’m sure I will also love them. I specifically appreciated the seamless toe construction (seams give me blisters). I also loved them for recovery. (Legend does make a separate compression sock for recovery.) Legend also touts greater power input (makes sense to me, since there is less jiggle!), increased oxygen levels and blood circulation, and reduced muscle fatigue. I don’t have a way to measure these items.

Legend Compression Performance Socks were great on my runs, and I loved them for recovery. (Cute, fit well, great for hopping on a plane a few hours after a half marathon.) Right now, you can get a discount on Legend compression wear from BibRave!

Click here to share the discount with your tweeps! bibsave15 scores you 15% off, courtesy of Legend Compression and BibRave!Click To Tweet

When you order your first pair, be sure to check out their sizing guide. BibRave Pro John agrees with me that they fit true to size (per the guide on their website). Don’t rely on sizing guides from other brands–I have a size 10.5 foot and wear a medium in another brand, but the large Legend socks were perfect for me.

Clean, dry, and ready to go!
Clean, dry, and ready to go!

Oh, final note: compression isn’t just for running!  BibRave Pro Haley likes to wear hers when she lifts. Same benefits–increased circulation, “fresh” legs, comfort–plus they make a nice shin guard for your deadlifts. (I’m looking at you, CrossFitters.) Legend comes in lots of fun colors (BibRave Pro Jessica picked purple!) so grab more than one pair!

Have you tried compression socks?

Disclosure: I received a complimentary entry to City to the Sea half marathon because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro, and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. It’s a great way to help race directors see what is working and what needs improvement, and to help other runners find out what a race is really like.

Wine tasting with Outcast wines? Don't mind if I do!
Wine tasting with Outcast wines? Don’t mind if I do!

This is a gorgeous little race! I’m surprised it isn’t bigger, but since no one has heard of it–seriously, when I checked into my hotel and asked for a late checkout because of the race the hotel staff said, “oh, there’s a race this weekend? What race?”–I thought the race was relatively new, like just a few years old. I found out after the race that this year was actually the 21st anniversary of City to the Sea. Pro Tip: go run it NOW before the entire world learns about it!

This is pretty much everyone who ran the half marathon. Not kidding.
This is pretty much everyone who ran the half marathon. Not kidding.

Pre-race communications. There were plenty of  pre-race emails with information about race day and about San Luis Obispo. There is so much to do–wine, history, sports, beach–that I figured a ton of people probably chose this race specifically for a destination getaway. There is even a section on the race website called “Getaway Weekend.” If you’re looking for a couples’ trip, a family trip, whatever, there are plenty of options. I wish I had more time in SLO to explore. Maybe next time? Pro Tip: aim to spend Friday night and all day Saturday in SLO so you can check out some of the area’s other goodies.

Super cute cotton shirt, plus a Buff I bought for myself as a birthday present--it's ocean-themed!
Super cute cotton shirt, plus a Buff I bought for myself as a birthday present–it’s ocean-themed!

Travel & The Expo. Initially I thought I’d fly, but Southwest does not fly into the SLO airport, so I decided to drive. It should have taken me about 4 and a half hours to drive from Alameda to San Luis Obispo, but there were three sets of funky traffic, including one along the 101 where I was driving 10 mph for almost half an hour, so I barely made it to the expo/packet pick-up. It turns out that was a good thing. First, I wasn’t in the registration system (and I’m honestly not sure if that’s my fault–I remember making an attempt to register but couldn’t find the confirmation email). No worries, one of the registration volunteers got me signed up.

Second, I didn’t have to wait to exchange my t-shirt. The women’s shirts are Next Level–a brand notorious for running small–the men’s shirts ran large. Next Level basically uses junior sizes (think middle school and high school girls) not adult women sizes, so I needed an XL and even so, it’s kinda tight. Tight enough that I’d have taken an XXL if it had been available. Hopefully I will still get some wear out of it, since it is a cotton shirt in a super cute color, with just the race logo on the front. Pro tip to all race directors out there: let a woman who is a runner order the shirts.

Third, I realized I had forgotten to pack socks, despite literally making a list and checking it twice. Oops. Running Warehouse was right there, and they had my beloved Wright’s Double Layer Socks. I also indulged in some run-treats for the race: Honey Stinger’s caramel waffle and cherry cola chews, and a Hammer gel in hazelnut chocolate.

‘Twas the night before… In the ideal world, I would have had Monday off from work–it is a federal holiday, making it the perfect weekend for a three-day racecation on Calif0rnia’s central coast–but I did not. So I had to cram my entire experience of the town into Saturday night and Sunday after the race. I chose the Courtyard Marriott for location and because I am a slave to my Marriott points, and they took great care of me (even though they didn’t know there was a race going on). Saturday night they had live music and a wine tasting with Outlaw wines. Hooray! I met up with SLOluckyruns for a pre-race pizza and catching up, made a quick trip to the treehugger grocery store by the pizza place for supplies and treats, and managed to get to bed somewhat early (after obsessing about parking and figuring out how long it would take to get to the start, setting an alarm…)

Flat Bain. Hey, if you know how this flat runner "selfie" got started, drop me a line, eh?
Flat Bain. Hey, if you know how this flat runner “selfie” got started, drop me a line, eh?

Pre-race routine. So glad I bought the socks–true story, there were none in my bag. (Somehow I also didn’t pack my RaceDots, even though I stared at them on the fridge and decided to put them in the bag with my snacks.) I also totally forgot that I’d packed a banana and peanut butter, so ended up not eating them, but I did remember to coat myself thoroughly in sunblock before heading out to the race.

Members of the BibRave Pro team goofing around pre-race. (You can tell which one of us is the old lady who hasn't mastered selfies.)
Members of the BibRave Pro team goofing around pre-race. (You can tell which one of us is the old lady who hasn’t mastered selfies. #doubletriplechin)

Parking. I followed Google maps, which gave me the same directions as were on the City to the Sea website. Unfortunately, neither warned me that Marsh Street would be closed, and both explicitly instructed me to exit on Marsh Street. Fortunately Google maps is pretty quick to re-route. There were three parking garages identified in the pre-race information, but I couldn’t actually get to any of them from where I ended up. On the bright side, street parking is free until 1 p.m. so I just pulled into the first spot I found. Turns out I was one block from the start!

My favorite on-runner sight at City to the Sea!
My favorite on-runner sight at City to the Sea!

Race Start.  My first impression was surprise at how small the race field was. Looking at the finisher results, there are times for 1352 runners (and 73 runners listed with no finish times, so I can’t tell if they are DNS, DNF, or timing chip malfunction). I was expecting more like 5000-6000 runners, not including the 5k (which started from another location). The results also list the town for each runner, and the vast majority came from right in the San Luis Obispo area, or within a few hours’ drive.

The start area of this point-to-point course had the typical amenities: bag check, information, and a giant row of porta-potties (plenty for all the runners, lines were short). The pace team was appropriately spaced leaving plenty of room for runners to self-seed. The race started about five minutes late (which was fine with me); I’m not sure if they had a sound system issue, but it was difficult to hear the pre-race announcements, and my corral did not hear the first half of the National Anthem. I thought the announcer said they would be starting the runners in waves (presumably based on the pacers), but the entire field started at once without any breaks. This meant that initially we moved forward towards the start line and then ended up in a stand-still clump waiting to pass over it, but that turned out to be fine as we had the entire street to ourselves.

The Best: The Course! Since I have a half marathon every weekend in October and most of November, with the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank half marathon next weekend, I was not out to set a PR on this course–but I’m pretty sure I could have. Add in my still-creaky hip and something funky going on in my left ankle, and my goals were simple: have fun, enjoy the course, finish without getting swept or injured.

Perfect weather for race day!
Perfect weather for race day!

As a point-to-point, there were not too many turns on the course, making it pretty speedster-friendly. The first stretch ran down Higuera Street, through and out of San Luis Obispo, and we had the entire street to ourselves. As we moved from downtown Higuera Street turns into more of a highway, even though it isn’t actually a highway, and we had half of the road (the other half was open to traffic). This was fine, as there was still plenty of room for all of us. The course runs parallel to the 101 for a time, then underneath it and through a greenbelt and park, eventually on to Shell Beach Road. It’s one of those courses where even though you know there is a road right next to you for most of it, it feels quiet, peaceful, and far from traffic. The last bit runs along the oceanfront (but it’s up–the ocean is like 20′ down from where you are running), then through some neighborhoods, and into the finish line and park.

I really enjoyed the downhill between the beginning and mile 7. The hill at mile 7, okay, that was okay. The big hill at mile 10, and the final hill at mile 12? Those were just a little too mean for my currently wimpy ankle. (Though really sincerely, if I had trained to run this for a PR, anticipating the hills at the end, it would have been d0-able since there was a long, slow downhill.) I was pleased to feel my hamstrings and glutes engaging–proof the focus I’ve put on training the back line of the body is paying off–though maybe taking an Orangetheory class (endurance day, surprise!) on Saturday morning wasn’t my best plan ever. Meh. I felt strong on the initial hills, but by the time I hit the last one at mile 12 my body was done with it.

Neighborhood dolphins, decked out for Halloween!
Neighborhood dolphins, decked out for Halloween!

The Best: The Volunteers!  Every aid station was well-stocked with everything promised, including a bunch of friendly volunteers. There were volunteers at the few possible places you could have made a wrong turn, which I expected. There were also volunteers on the longer stretches who were just there to cheer–which I did not expect but found delightful! I’m told that California has a mandatory community service requirement to graduate from high school and that is why it is so easy to find volunteers for races here. (It might not be state-wide, it might just be certain schools. I’ve not investigated this.) One of the coolest things at City to the Sea is that every volunteer was engaged and IN the race. I didn’t catch any bored teens rolling their eyes while scrolling on their iPhones. There were cheers, high-fives, signs, costumes, instead. I can’t say enough about how great the volunteers were, in every way. I kinda wish I’d taken a picture to put here, but that might have seemed stalkerishly weird.

There in the distance, the finish line!
There in the distance, the finish line!

Race’s End. All good courses must come to an end, and while I did love the seaside finish I was ready for the course to end after the hill at mile 11. At the finish line every finisher received their medal, some decals, and a pint-glass sized cup from Running Warehouse (presumably for use in the beer garden).  The race finished in a small park overlooking the ocean, and even though it was not a huge finisher festival, there was plenty to see and do.

The park has a built-in playground structure that is dinosaur-themed, so there’s that. To foster a more family-friendly vibe, the race also had a pretend obstacle course where a group of kids could race each other by jumping over “fire,” for example, and eventually going through a standing hula hoop. It was adorable, and the kids were LOVING it! (Again, it would have been stalkerishly weird to take pictures of others peoples’ kids to use in a blog post, so imagination will have to suffice.)

Like a thorough review? Click here to share it with your tweeps/peeps!Click To Tweet

The finisher festival was set up mainly around the edges of the park. Cuesta College Athletics, the beneficiary of the race (which is reason enough to go run this!), had a booth. There were tables with chilled water and Fluid‘s electrolyte beverage (which is how I used my cup). Two local LuLaRoe dealers had set up a booth (but none of the Halloween designs I’m stalking).

Until race day, I didn't know "Fluid" was a brand name (and not a generic for "some type of electrolyte beverage"). Post-race, I sampled the cinnamon vanilla recovery beverage--it is vegan and soy-free--and let me tell you, it tasted like chai. #nomnom
Until race day, I didn’t know “Fluid” was a brand name (and not a generic for “some type of electrolyte beverage”). Post-race, I sampled the cinnamon vanilla recovery beverage–it is vegan and soy-free–and let me tell you, it tasted like chai. #nomnom

Due to the usual state and local laws regulating alcohol (sigh), the beer garden was fenced off and had volunteers checking IDs on the way in. I didn’t go in–I went over to the massage and recovery area to borrow a chair and sit a bit–but that’s also where the band was. No problem though, you could hear the band just fine throughout most of the park. Also, the band–Makeover–was really good! It was an 80’s pop music cover band, and they sounded great. Everyone was really enjoying the music.

Foam rollers front and center, ice bath to the right!
Foam rollers front and center, ice bath to the right!

There was one area that needs improvement, as the corporate annual reviews would say, at the finisher area: food. Leading up to the race, each email had this in it:

race-ad

I know it is a little fuzzy (it didn’t blow up well), sorry. Anyway, I was really looking forward to the breakfast burritos. Even though the burrito provider is clearly Central Coast Meats, the pre-race emails promised a vegetarian option too. My favorite post-race things are chocolate milk, champagne, and breakfast tacos (though obviously not mixed together). If I can’t have breakfast tacos, a breakfast burrito will definitely do. I’d been eyeing the tab on my bib for breakfast as I cleared the last few miles, so after checking out the beer garden, I went to look for the breakfast burritos. Only there weren’t any. I don’t mean there weren’t any vegetarian breakfast burritos, I mean there were no breakfast burritos at all. In fact the area where they had been handing them out was packed up and it took me a few passes to figure out that’s where the burritos used to be.

First, I feel compelled to point out that it is not my turtle speed that caused me to be deprived of a burrito. On the bus back to the start someone walked on with a breakfast burrito in her hand and offered it to anyone who wanted it. (It was pretty big, too. Not like an overstuffed Chipotle, but like a reasonably decent sized meal of a burrito.) Immediately all the women sitting around me remarked that they didn’t get breakfast burritos either. Curious, I asked when they finished–because at that point I assumed they packed up after 3 hours, which was the official course limit–and found out many of them finished around 2:40 or 2:45. Several told me that they were standing in line for a burrito when the burritos ran out.

Second, lest you think there’s no way you’d eat a burrito after all that finisher chute food, there was no finisher chute food. The breakfast burrito was not in addition to bagels, bananas, salty snacks, etc. but instead of them. No burrito, no food. Given that Cuban food isn’t exactly vegetarian-friendly by nature (though I did check the menu board), no on-site breakfast for me.

Transportation. The race entry fee included transportation back to the starting line (very important for a point-to-point course!). Unlike the San Francisco courses, this was part of the registration, not an added fee. Both a coach-style bus and a limo-type “short bus” transported runners back to the start. This ran seamlessly, with runners lining up to board as they were ready. The ride back was comfortable and climate-controlled, and the drop off was just around the corner (literally) from the start.

Post-race stroll. Since I had secured a late check-0ut from my hotel (shout out and mad props to the very nice people at the Courtyard by Marriott San Luis Obispo), I decided to walk around the area immediately adjacent to where my car was parked. First I went to LUSH, with the idea that I would buy a shower bomb (since my room had a super awesome shower, but no bathtub). Denied! Turns out LUSH only sells those shower things online, though I could have bought plenty of other goodies. Nope, I wanted Up The Wooden Hill. From there I went to Phoenix Books because I am a book junkie. (One entire wall of my living room is the library, and I have three piles of books in the bedroom.) I couldn’t find a website, but if you are in town you should visit! This is the book lovers bookstore, with used books packed onto shelves, lining the stairs, and in piles on the floor. I found a few gems to take home, and decided I should exit before I found more.

After a lovely shower at the Courtyard, a bottle of Gerolsteiner, and that banana and peanut butter I had forgotten to eat, it was time to check out. I decided to spend a few hours exploring SLO before the drive home.

Lunch! #nomnom
Lunch! #nomnom

I had a filling, delicious, vegetarian lunch at Bliss Cafe. It had the “hippy dippy” attitude and menu I expected–lots of explanations about Ayurvedic food, delightful art with Krishna on the walls–and my lunch was delicious. Bliss shares a building entrance with a few other shops, so I took time to explore them. First I bought some handmade earrings at the art gallery, and then I purchased some perfume from the hippy/pagan clothing/etc. store in the same arcade. (It’s not on Google Maps and I didn’t note the name–sorry!) Finally I went to Cowboy Cookie where instead of birthday cake I had a sprinkled sugar cookie bowl filled with birthday cake ice cream.

The last hour or so of my time in SLO, I strolled the rest of the street and took a look around. Sunday evening there were plenty of shops open, and plenty of things closed.

My favorite cow!
My favorite cow! 67 Cowlifornia Republic

San Luis Obispo has a CowParade going on, which I love. (I can’t remember how this started, but I’ve seen cows and other animals on parade in various cities I’ve visited over the years. I think the first one I saw was Chicago?) You can’t see it, but the sign has a hotline to call to report injured cows. You can see the 120 cows in this parade–which are all over the cownty, not just in the city–through April 2017 and vote for your favorite. I also stopped in to browse multiple art galleries and shops.

I knew about the one in Seattle--which Google says is coming down???--but not this one!
I knew about the one in Seattle–which Google says is coming down???–but not this one!

Bubblegum alley had plenty of people taking pictures, so I had to wait my turn. Also, it’s a teeny bit gross…but the fifth grader in me was secretly pleased it exists. I really wish I’d had more time to explore (and a bigger stomach), but all too soon it was time to drive back home.

If you’ve run City to the Sea, why not take a moment to review it on BibRave.com? You know how great it is, and how much potential it has to be a huge destination race!

Parting words of wisdom
Parting words of wisdom

 

Yes, I’m really about to have another birthday. (Hey, it beats the only alternative, right?) The big day is October 9th, same as John Lennon, but of course I’m going to celebrate all month–pumpkin spice all the things! Trick or Treat! The beginning of soup season! In many non-California parts of the country this is also the beginning of race season. (California doesn’t really have a race season, and I’m pretty sure I could run at least one race every weekend without driving more than two miles from my house.) Naturally, I think you should celebrate my incarnation “with” me by running a race.

Invite your friends to celebrate my birthday by running a race--click here to tweet!Click To Tweet

1200x628_facebook-02

If you actually want to run in the same physical location with me, come out to City to the Sea in San Luis Obispo, where I will be running the half marathon as a BibRave Pro! This will be my first time running the race, and my first time to visit San Luis Obispo as well. The race features a mostly downhill point-to-point course, and I understand there may be breakfast tacos at the finish line. Check out all the perks and details on the race homepage. If you’re feeling less adventurous–maybe you’re celebrating my birthday on Saturday night?–there is also a 5k option. You can still use citytotheseabibrave to save $10 on your registration, but hurry because the race is this weekend! This is the link to online registration.

13433122_10155066429804466_9157070131371381905_o

Naturally as soon as I committed to run City to the Sea, Represent Running set the East Bay 510k for the same day. This really bummed me out because this is my first year as part of the Represent Running team, and I wanted to run all of the races in person, though there is a virtual option so I can still earn the mega-bling. (Of course there is mega-bling!) It’s not to late for you to sign up, however, and if you use code REPRESENT2016ER you can save a few bucks for a post-race celebratory beverage. This year there are pre-race packet pickup events in San Francisco and in the East Bay. Head over to the registration site or to the race website for more details. While you’re there, think about how much you want that trifecta medal and register for next year’s San Jose 408k. See you at the Mariachi Mile!

honey-badger-logo

If trails are more your jam, I highly recommend checking out the Honey Badger at China Camp State Park in San Rafael. (In fact if I had not already committed to City to the Sea, I’d be out on the trails with cowbells cheering you on and pointing you in the right direction.) You can choose a half marathon, 10k, or 5k trail party. Keep your eyes peeled for the hidden woodallions along the trail because if you find one you could score a sweet prize! (Past loot has included trail shoes, cases of beverages, headgear, and running supplies.) If you’re one of the first ten people to enter code BAIN, you also score $10 off your registration. All the details are over here.

Finally, however you choose to celebrate, keep an eye on the blog (or follow me on twitter) because giveaway-a-palooza continues all month. I’m a little behind on my ambitious goal to get 31 prizes up for the 31 days of October–right now you can enter to win The Long Run and Trailhead–but they are all coming. Future prizes include more books, race swag, charitable and sweet-smelling soaps, and goodies from IDEA World BlogFest and Natural Products ExpoWest.

Disclosure: I am a proud Ambassador for the 2016 Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon (and Half Marathon, Relay, 5k, and Kids Fun Run). The race supplied the books I’m giving away in this post. All words and opinions are my own.

2016-ambassador-logo-black-text

As I’m writing this, there are 20 days left until race day! (So, um, I guess I’d better buy some plane tickets and make a travel plan, eh?) If you’re not registered, it’s too late–but only for the international races. (Since the marathon, marathon relay, and international half marathon all cross the Ambassador Bridge into Canada, there’s that pesky business of giving the races’ registration lists to the U.S. Border Patrol and the Canada Border Services Agency to pre-clear everyone to enter. Can you imagine what your race times would look like if you had to wait in line at the border??) There IS still time to register for the U.S.-only half, the 5k, and the kids fun run. So hurry over to the race website and use code TRAINWITHBAIN to save 10% off of the current prices!

The 2012 Detroit International Half Marathon was the first race I did any serious training to run, and I still wasn’t fast. (It wasn’t even a PR.) I ran it for Mom, and for DetermiNation (which raises funds for the American Cancer Society). In the process, I also convinced my best friend, my Dad, and two cousins to run with us. In subsequent years I got one of my brothers to run (he likes to gloat about how much faster he is) and my best friend’s husband joined us too.

img_0284
My 2012 Race Crew, post race, at the DetermiNation tent

I remember how cold it was at the starting line and as I sit here sweating my buns off in California (hello, isn’t it supposed to be fall?) a crisp fall breeze blowing in my face as I run to Canada sounds delicious! It was chilly enough that while I slipped off the arms of the sweatshirt, I still wore my gloves for the entire race. At the same time, it was quite sunny and otherwise beautiful weather. Given how much I dislike the heat, I’ve found this race to have the perfect running weather.

Note the fashionable addition of Dad's old sweatshirt to my outfit to combat the cold! P.S. I did pay for this download, so I'm not sure what's up with the watermark.
Note the fashionable addition of Dad’s old sweatshirt to my outfit to combat the cold! P.S. I did pay for this download, so I’m not sure what’s up with the watermark.

2016 is the 39th running of the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon. The race has a colorful history filled with “firsts” and “onlys.” For example, this race was the very first event to ever close down the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, which runners have playfully nicknamed “the underwater mile.”

The Under Water Mile, and quite possibly the world's worst selfie
The Under Water Mile, and quite possibly the world’s worst selfie

As a runner, I love this race. It shows off the best of Detroit, and while it doesn’t necessarily show off “the worst” it doesn’t hide that Detroit is a city undergoing big changes. Detroit has some magnificent architecture and a pretty great history; I like to try to imagine what it looked like when my great-grandmother went to Detroit to meet with the rum runners who supplied her bar during Prohibition. The crowd support is amazing, especially along the Windsor waterfront where the streets are lined with cheering Canadians, and there’s always a giant crowd right before you hit the runnel to run back to Michigan. Speaking of the tunnel, there is a great selfie opportunity at the U.S./Canada border. As Emma Tranter (the women’s winner of the 1978 marathon) said, “The people along the route were great to us and the course was great. There’s just not enough I can say about it. It was a really great event.” Thirty-nine years later, that’s still true. But don’t just take my word for it; check out my fellow ambassador Meghan Warzecha’s reasons she loves this race.

As one of the inaugural Ambassadors for this race, I only love it more! (I still can’t believe they picked me to be on the team.) The entire race team welcomed us aboard with a meeting in February, and it was scheduled during my visit to Michigan for Dad’s wedding so that I would be able to attend. New Balance Detroit provided us with some sweet Ambassador swag, including tech shirts and pullovers. Ambassadors have been invited to subsequent planning meetings (though I haven’t been able to attend). We have regularly been invited to give input, and our suggestions are taken seriously. This year we are even going to host a #WeRunSocial meetup at the expo!

image1

By the way, if you aren’t prepared to run the race but are going to be in the area, you are still very welcome to join us at the meetup–#werunsocial is for all runners! If you can’t make the meet-up, come say hi at the

This week, three of the race staff took time out from their Sunday evening to join us on the Runner of a Certain Age podcast too. (Did you know there are 4,000 runners who will run Detroit for charity?) You can check out the episode and the show notes for The Gotta Lose Your Mind In Detroit edition. The podcast is filled with race details and excellent trivia.

A little more than half of the 2016 Ambassadors
A little more than half of the 2016 Ambassadors

I’m really just thrilled to be able to share one of the best races in the country with my friends! Before I forget, the medals for this race are also pretty sweet. The bling itself pays homage to Detroit’s heritage as The Motor City. Each year features a different car (see above and below). The ribbon weaves elements of the U.S. flag and Canadian flag together.

I'm in line for coffee while displaying the 2012 bling
I’m in line for coffee while displaying the 2012 bling

In combination with the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon weekend, I’m giving away three copies of The Long Run. This book is a history of the first 30 years of the race. It’s filled with facts, but also with pictures, and covers not just the runners but also the wheelchair division and the handcycle division. It’s interesting both as a history of this particular race and as a a chronicle of the development of a major marathon.

This is the prize!
This is the prize!

If you want to get a sneak preview, you can check out the “Look Inside!” feature on Amazon.com. (Or you can just trust me that it is a great read!)

Details: this contest is not sponsored, endorsed, or otherwise related to anyone or any entity with two exceptions. One, Bain is an ambassador and this is her blog; she is 100% responsible for this contest. Two, the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon has generously provided copies of the book. Shipping will be slow! This contest closes on the first day of the race expo, and Bain and the race team are going to be super busy!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway