A prior edition of my gift guide focused on safety. This one is all about the essentials: stuff all runners (and other distance athletes) need. While we don’t all come up with the same solutions, we all face similar problems. Whether it’s too much humidity or extra clothes in winter, chafe happens. For men, there’s the dreaded nipple chafing (though chafe happens in some much less pleasant places, from what I’m told). For the vast majority of women, there’s also bra chafing and that problem when your thighs get chatty with each other. Then there’s the grumbly in your tumbly, which might demand food immediately, but then want to chuck it right back up if you’re still running. Finally, there are the things you always need but don’t always remember you need. Here’s my roundup:
Nip Chafing in the Bud
See what I did there? Or not. (Maybe it was funnier in my head.) Squirrels Nut Butter. It’s a miracle. It’s the Alice in Wonderland version of a body slide product: not too waxy, not too melty. You have a variety of options including a stick (less messy), tin (reusable?), and a compostable tube. There’s also a vegan version. As long as you’re shopping for what they call “adventure lube,” you might as well get some Happie Toes, which is a lovely product to moisturize and protect your feet. I like to put a little bit on my feet before bed.
If your chafing is of the covered-by-your-undies variety, there’s nothing better than Boudreaux’s Butt Paste. Yes, friends, this is a diaper rash cream. It comes in a variety of formulas and package sizes, all of which are equally good as far as I’m concerned. I tend to buy the smaller package, which is less cost-effective but more likely to be carry-on friendly. BONUS: you can buy this at the drugstore or grocery store, making it a thoughtful buy if you’re shopping at the last minute.
Especially pertinent during winter: chapped lips. (In case you’re not a runner, running often requires you to use both your nose and your mouth to breathe, and in the winter that’s a recipe for painful chopped lips.) Of course you can also get sunburned lips if you go out in nice weather with bare lips. Yucky. Most folks are not picky about their lip balms, and I’ve got one stashed in each of my running belts/bags, so this is potentially another good “oops forgot to shop but thought about it” stocking stuffer, as there are all sorts of options at the drugstore. Avoid the oversized cutesy containers, and “pot” or tin style packaging (harder to use while running). My absolute favorite–it’s a splurge at more than $20–is Fresh Sugar Lip Balm. https://www.fresh.com/us/lip-care/sugar-lip-balm-H00006232.html It is also available at Ulta, Sephora, and a variety of other retailers.
Snacks For Days!
Okay so technically not a snack, but Run Gum is definitely something your run-love needs. Think all the caffeine of a cup of coffee to make you go, but NOT the part of the coffee that makes you, um, “go.” Also way more portable than coffee in terms of carrying stuff with you when you go for a run. Like it’s light enough to stuff in even the smallest pocket, or tape to the back of your bib. (You can even recycle the gum and the package if you buy a Terracycle box.) I’m still completely confused as to how it works, but you can click here to shop Run Gum on my groupshop. Otherwise, check out www.rungum.com or look for it at Target and Walmart.
When I first started running, there were not many options for gel, which we called “goo” (based on a similar-sounding brand name). You’re supposed to consume 8 oz. of water with most of them, which was hard to do, and so many of them just made icky lumps in my tummy. One brand made gels in flavors I found delicious, but which inevitably made me puke later. Then I found Honey Stinger (and I’m now a proud member of the Hive!). Honey Stinger makes honey-based gels that I found WAY easier to eat and digest. I’m also a huge fan of the Honey Stinger waffle as a pre-race snack (there are gluten-free ones too!), especially where it might be an hour or more between when I leave home/hotel and when my corral gets near the starting line. Pro tip: use medical tape to put the waffle on the back of your bib to avoid mashing it up. Honey Stinger makes a full line of hydration products, chews, and some super yummy nut bars. Check your local running store or head to https://honeystinger.com/
If you’re not sure what your run-love likes, or they are new to sports and don’t know what they like, head to The Feed and buy them a gift card. I’ve been Fueled By The Feed for about a year (see forthcoming post on their awesomeness). The Feed carries a wide range of brands (including Run Gum and Honey Stinger) and you can shop by brand or type of product. Several categories have a budget-friendly sampler pack where you can try the top sellers (say, the top nine hydration products). Once you’ve made a purchase, The Feed will send you discounts for the products you’ve purchased, and suggest others that you may like. In addition to fuel and supplements, The Feed also carries a selection of gear, and issues a series of customizable water bottles.
Things You Always Need (But Don’t Always Remember You Need)
There are cheap fabric-tubes that brands give away, and then there is Buff. If you’ve seen the TV show Survivor, you’ve seen each tribe with a distinctive Buff design that they wear as a hat, headband, tube top, and more. I’ve written all about Buff before (check out my review here), including the fantastic UV-protection Buff (all about that here), and the half-sized Buff (I love that too). I prefer a full-sized Buff for any event where I need to tame my mane, as I make it into a cap under my hat or visor; a half-size when I run with a ponytail; and the headband for hot yoga. Buff also makes other functional protective products, including a balaclava.
Gloves. At bigger races, runners often line up quite some time before the race actually starts. This is practical–if 20,000 people all wait until 6:50 to try to get in line, the race cannot start at 7:00–but also annoying when it is cold outside. Many runners wear “tosser” clothes to the start line, with the intent to peel off their top layer of sweatpants, jackets, gloves, etc. either at the stating line or during the first mile. (Larger races have volunteers collect tosser items, which are then laundered and donated to charity partners. Since many runners buy tosser shirts and sweats at Goodwill, you can think of this as recycling?) While many runners wear very nice insulated gloves for long winter runs, few runners keep their gloves much past the starting line from spring through fall. Those 99 cent stretchy gloves you find at Target or the dollar stores? Fantastic tosser gloves. (If your run-love is a social media maven, they can snip the tip off of one index finger so their phone will work.) Also great are the oversized oatmeal-colored cotton gardening gloves from the hardware store.
NoSo Patches. I had no idea I needed these until I found them. You know how fancy outdoor fabrics, or even nylon camping gear, sometimes hits a bad snag? I have a lovely winter Columbia jacket, the kind with an outer shell and a zip-in fleece, and there’s nothing wrong with it…but it has developed a small chafed spot that’s turning into a hole. (To be fair, I got this jacket in 2002.) My inner environmentalist wasn’t excited about tossing a jacket that still has a lot of use left in it, and my ever-present fussbudget couldn’t find one I liked better anyway. NoSo was born of a similar incident (the founder tore a brand new jacket). I love that it is a woman-owned company and that the products exist to help you use your gear for longer. Just like the name says, you don’t sew the patches–they stick on, and you set them with heat. My jacked only needs one patch (I picked an X-shaped patch inspired by “Starry Night” since my jacket is blue and grey) but I bought four. Just in case. https://nosopatches.com/
What Is YOUR “Must Have” Essential?
Are you a runner or other distance athlete, or buying gifts for someone who is? What’s on your list?
Disclosures: I paid full-fare for this race and all associated expenses. Yes, I went into this race under-trained which was 100% my own fault. I’m not upset that I took a DNF (despite the 3:14:11 that shows in the race results). I AM pretty salty about some of the apparent mismanagement of the event itself, as well as the blatant lie that was the “3.5 hour course limit.” The TL; DR here is that if you are a slower runner–someone who either plans to walk large segments, is at or near a 16-minute mile pace–and want to do the full distance I absolutely DO NOT recommend this race because your chances of getting to finish are zero.
The ongoing global pandemic rescheduled thousands of races, from local favorites to the iconic Boston Marathon. While this created conflicts for some, it created opportunities for others. When I learned in April that Napa to Sonoma–one of my favorite half marathons, one that in years past sold out promptly–was moved from summer to December, I asked a friend to join me on a December getaway. I last ran this race, then owned by Destination Races (more on that later) in July 2014 and sang its praises in my subsequent blog review. I just knew we’d have a blast based on my past experiences with Destination Races in the past in general, and Napa to Sonoma in particular–gorgeous course, generous 3.5 hour course limit… Yeah, hold that thought.
Napa to Sonoma is Spendy
Let me start by explaining that this is an EXPENSIVE race. My bib was $195. (Compare a pre-sale not-Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon at $65, or the local-to-me Appletree Half at $70-95 depending on when you register.) In order to avoid crowds at the Saturday packet pickup, I also opted to pay $25 to have my bib and shirt mailed to me. (Worthy.) I also paid $19.99 for a photo package from Finisher Pix. (In hindsight, a Bad Idea.) Add a donation to the American Cancer Society (the official charity partner) and a $20.47 Active processing fee (I’m an Active+ member, but they only gave a $10 discount) and I put down $270 before I even booked airfare, a rental car, and lodging.
To be fair, the $195 plus processing fees covers more than many half marathons. In addition to the usual shirt and medal, runners are shuttled to the starting line because this is a point-to-point course. After the race there is a wine tasting festival with live music, and each runner is given a wine glass. (Based on Instagram posts from prior years, it looks like they bought the glasses in bulk a few years ago; the glass we received this year looks just like the one from years past.) This year the fee also included use of a coaching app called Bird, free to all runners. (While I did not make full use of Bird, I imagine I would in the future–but that’s a post for another day.) That said, $195 plus fees is on par with what Disney charged for the 2021 fall half marathon–still very expensive.
What’s the Motiv?
No More Destination Races. Next, I should note that Destination Races (who I knew as the owner/operator of Napa to Sonoma and other runs in wine country) was acquired by Motiv Running. Or perhaps Motiv just bought their races, I don’t know exactly. What I do know is that Motiv Running, in turn, is owned by a big conglomerate named Black Shamrock Partners (formerly known as Consumer Concept Group). I was familiar with Motiv because they began to buy up a bunch of races that had been local to me before I moved from California to Oregon in 2017. All I really knew is that they were a big Denver-based conglomerate of some sort, and based on the rate they were buying up events in California I assumed they had some sort of venture capital or other outside funding. According to this 2018 press release, at that time they had already purchased a bunch of races the company referred to as “investments,” including “the Sydney Marathon, Love Run Philadelphia Half Marathon, Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, The Surf City Marathon and Half Marathon, The Wildflower and Malibu Triathlons as well as the Denver Oktoberfest.” You can see a list of some of their current “investments” on the Motiv website linked above. (I’m sad to learn they now own Portland’s Shamrock Run.)
In hindsight, I probably should have paid more attention to Motiv between its creation in 2015 and the buying spree they took up during the next two years. (If I had, I might have chosen a different race.) Instead of taking a hard look at the changes to the races, I was wowed by their roster of “content creators.” (The content creation seems to have fallen by the wayside, since there are no articles or commentary on the Motiv website right now.) Initially the company seemed to be all about preserving the “local race” experience–ironic, since it was in fact eating up actual local race companies–but the more recent press releases I found are all extremely corporate “identifying opportunities for growth” and not about presenting the best possible running experience. Priorities noted, Motiv.
Let’s Talk Pre-Race Weekend
Communication prior to the race seemed excellent. Emphasis on the “seemed” part. About ten days prior to the race I received an email with a very clear schedule of events, including information on the on-course amenities (water, nuun, Base gel) and a link to the detailed final participant information (where to park, etc.). The email also included links to pre-order race merchandise and wine developed for the race by Meadowcroft wines.
As I mentioned, I paid to have my packet shipped to me. Communication there was also excellent (I received tracking emails before the packet arrived), and everything arrived in November–plenty of time in advance of race day. Bonus: I got to run my race shirt through the wash.
Ominous Weather! As race day neared, I received multiple emails warning me that the weather forecast was for rain, and advising me to dress in layers, consider bringing a cover-up layer to shed after the start, and to pack dry clothing to change into after the race. At least one email also mentioned the cooler temperatures (race day high temp: approx. 47 degrees). I had planned ahead with layers for race day–long sleeved shirt, quarter-zip, jacket–and plenty of medical tape and Squirrel’s Nut Butter (to prevent blisters on my feet). I also packed a full set of dry clothes, including shoes and socks, for after the race.
Comedy Tonight! The first moment of “oh this is ridiculous” was the night before the race. I went to lay out my race kit and discovered that I had left my bib on my dining room table in Oregon. After putting it there so I could not possibly walk out of the house without seeing it. After planning for weeks to use it as a bookmark in the book I would take for the plane. D’oh! But hey, at that point it was way too late to do anything about it, and I just figured it would all work out.
Race Day: Let’s Start At The Very Beginning.
Parking and Shuttles. I personally thought communication about parking and shuttles was fairly clear, but others may disagree, and it doesn’t seem like Motiv followed through on their shuttle plans properly. In any case, this is a point-to-point course with runner drop-off but NO PARKING at the starting line. As I did in 2014, I chose to park near the finish line and take one of the shuttles to the start. There were three identified parking locations (not including plentiful on-street parking).
It was raining on race morning, as we got up in the dark and made our way from the Air BnB to Sonoma. Sunrise was supposed to be 7:17 a.m., and the last shuttle was supposed to leave at 6:20 a.m. in order to make the 7:00 a.m. start time, so we planned to arrive between 5:45 and 6:00 a.m., aka Ouch O’Clock. I had intended to park at the Sonoma State Historic Park, but the address provided (and which I pumped into Google Maps) did not lead to the parking lot, so I ended up on the street, which was fine. There were shuttles waiting right across the street from us, waiting to transport us to the starting line. Since masks were required on the shuttles–I’m fully vaccinated and have my booster, but I expect races to follow best practices vis a vis preventing COVID-19 transmission–we planned to use the shuttles.
The LOLs Continue! As I got my post-race gear bag out of the car and took out my rain poncho, I realized…it wasn’t a rain poncho at all. I’d somehow managed to pack one rain poncho (the kind you buy at Disney World when it rains on race weekend) and one…shower curtain liner. I still have no idea how a newish, clean shower curtain liner ended up in my closet packed with my rain ponchos, but I just laughed–after leaving my bib at home, I guess anything is possible!
Step Two: The Starting Line
First, The Good. The race begins at the Cuvaison Carneros Winery in Napa. I have mostly good points for the starting area. (1) The bag drop truck was easy to find–you had to walk past it to get to the waiting area–and there were plenty of clear plastic bags, bag tags, and markers available. The area to stuff and mark your bag had one of those square canopies over it so the supplies stayed dry. (2) There was another canopy nearby with coffee and enough cups for everyone. (3) I went to race day packet pickup and explained I’d made a mistake and left my bib at home, and they quickly assigned me a new one. (4) There were plenty of porta-potties.
Now, The Bad. (1) It wasn’t a great idea to leave the paved but lumpy path from the bus to the runner holding area at the winery, up a hill, completely in the dark (no lights at all and with sunrise more than a full hour after the first arrivals). I’m not sure who failed to think that through, but runners did stumble and fall. (2) Since the race organizers had repeatedly emailed the runners to warn us it was going to rain, I thoroughly expected that the race’s starting line would also be prepared for rain, with some dry pre-race accommodations–inside the winery, under some big rental tents, or otherwise a cover to keep runners dry. Nope. I get that you can’t control the weather, but after all of the extensive email advice about dealing with weather I expected the race would also make accommodations of some sort. (3) The speakers on the P.A. system were terrible. Even 10′ away they sounded like an adult character from “Peanuts” talking through a broken Fisher-Price toy. It was difficult to hear and understand the pre-race announcements, to the point where my friend with less race experience could not tell what was going on; I was barely able to piece it together based on the hundreds of races I’ve done. (4) There were a few of those outdoor gas-powered heater-trees (like you see at restaurants) but there were not nearly enough for all of the runners–by the time I arrived, there wasn’t space near enough to get warm. (This was fine by me–I brought plenty of clothing–but distressing to some of the runners who waited more than an hour for the race to start.)
Finally, The Ugly. The published starting time for this race was 7:00 a.m. I heard a garbled announcement that I interpreted as a 15-minute delay, and later heard “7:30 or 7:35” and–based in part on lack of movement back down the hill towards the starting line–assumed that was further delay. I’d left my Coros back in Oregon (charging in my office) so I don’t know what time we moved down towards the starting line but some people had been waiting long enough to need to pee again and with the porta-potties way back up the hill and no indication when the race might really start there was quite a bit of peeing in the vineyards of Cuvaison! As a slowpoke I was near the back, so couldn’t hear anything from the speakers at the starting line itself. Eventually, runners were released in groups–a smart move, to prevent bottlenecks and crowding–with a minute or so between groups. Group 6 (mine) crossed the starting line at 7:42 a.m. but I wasn’t worried since there was a published 3.5 hour time limit and there were PLENTY of people behind me–not to mention those still arriving at the bottom of the hill as shuttles continued to drop off runners after the start. (Listen, I don’t know what the problem was here, but this race has been going on for like 10+ years; to have the shuttles turn into such a cluster was pretty much inexcusable.)
Step Three: It Was A Dark And Cloudy Morning…
The Course is Beautiful. Even in the rain. Due to the point-to-point nature and limited road options there are a few features that most runners find somewhat unfortunate. For example, the course starts on a downhill leaving the winery, turns, and then immediately begins a hill climb. Another example is the transition from well-maintained, flat asphalt to a road made almost entirely of potholes; this transition happens exactly at the point you move from Napa County to Sonoma County (and you can tell because it is spray-painted on the road). Pretty minor annoyances though when you consider how gorgeous the wine country is! Even with grey skies, wrapped in a shower curtain, I loved being out on the course. How often do you get to run on a semi-closed course (the race had half of the road, vehicles had the other half) in such a beautiful place? Sure, I liked it better in the sun we had in July 2014 but I still loved the scenery.
On Course Support Was Solid. The pre-race emails identified the aid stations by mile marker and on a map of the course. In addition, the emails spelled out which aid (water, hydration, gels, bars) would be available where, and the brands, so there was no excuse for arriving unprepared on race day. I knew my tummy liked nuun, but I also brought my Orange Mud pack and filled my bottle with Hydrant. I packed Honey Stinger chews, also friendly to my tummy, for fuel. At mile 8 there were gels, bars, hand warmers, rain ponchos, and other assorted supplies. The hand warmers and rain ponchos would have been a million times more useful at the starting line so I’m not sure what the race director was thinking.
About that 3.5 hour course time limit…it’s a lie. Or at least VERY misleading. The website with the race FAQ states: “The half marathon course limit is 3.5 hours. You must maintain a pace of 16 minutes per mile to finish the race.” If you do the math, this is accurate. As far as my experience of 100+ half marathons has taught me, the course time limit is measured from the time the last runner crosses the starting line. If you’ve run a Run Disney event, you know those last runners as “the balloon ladies,” runners who carry balloons and keep a strict 16 minute pace. Other races use literal “balloon ladies” (the last runner carries balloons), though some just have a final pacer. That is NOT how this race works…
…which I learned when I was swept nearish to Mile 10, around 10:30 a.m. Instead, the 3.5 hours is measured from the published start time for the race–not even when the first runner starts! So the 3.5 hours began to run about 45 minutes before I did. The poor runners who got stuck in whatever problem the shuttles had? Some of them did not start until 8:00 a.m.!
Again, I knew I wasn’t properly trained for this race (all on me, 0% on Bird), and it was cold and wet. (A pre-race email advised, “Respect your limits. Cold temperatures restrict blood flow, which can cause muscles to contract and even cramp.”) According to the one timing mat (okay, bib scanner thingy) I was a 17:00/mile at the 10k mark–definitely behind pace, but only by 6 minutes at that point. I passed mile 8 and the aid station and was well into mile 9 when a truck pulled up and a race official told us that they “have to get the runners off the course by 10:30” and so the shuttle bus behind us was going to pick us up and “bump us forward.” Since I know how much work goes into planning a race and how stressful race day can be, I will not give a race official any smack talk on race day. So I got on the bus.
There were already a dozen runners on board. We picked up another dozen as we passed the markers for mile 10 and 11. Frankly, at that point I was disappointed–I paid $195 and had certainly not had 3.5 hours on the course–but the weather was crap and I was developing a weird, new blister in an inexplicably puzzling location on my right foot, plus again with the not giving smack to the race officials–but I determined that I’d have a good time anyway. I made new friends on the sag wagon and we all cheered each time a new person boarded.
Honestly I don’t know if they ever intended to “bump us forward” or if that was a lie too (given I boarded around 10:30, which appears to have been the actual course cut-off, 3.5 hours from the published start) but they took us all the way to the finish area. The bus dropped us off one block from the finish line (which we all then ran across and yes I accepted a medal, and no, I’m not adding this to my Half Fanatics record since I did not finish). My friend Melissa later told me that after she crossed the 12 mile marker she heard there was a head-on collision at the intersection just before that, which may explain why we were sent to the finish line. Or maybe not? The starting line was such a mess I’d believe almost anything.
Step Four: The Finish Line
Finish Line Food Was NomNom. I picked up a bottle of Oxigen water (the one time I drink bottled water because that’s all they had), a banana, Bob’s Red Mill peanut butter coconut bar, squeezable apple sauce pouch, and a bag of Sonoma Creamery cheese “crackers.” Despite the encouragement to “take as much as you want” I knew the people who were not scooped up by the sag wagon would also want snacks, so I limited my grab to one of each. I saw the nuun truck was nearby with four flavors on tap and made a note to head back. Then I went to find the gear check truck, which was all the way across the entire park–literally as far from the finish line and chute as possible.
Naively, I Expected A Changing Tent. In every race where I’ve been advised to pack dry post-race gear, there’s been a changing tent. Most races do not have such a thing, so why did I expect one here? Motiv told me to! For example, the December 7th email contained the following advice: “Check some warm gear. Be prepared for outdoor conditions at Cuvaison Winery before the race starts. Wear your warm clothes to the start and then check them at gear check, which closes at 6:45am. We’ll transport your gear check bag to the finish line so you can get out of wet clothes immediately after the race. It’s important to change the clothing closest to your body to stay warm and dry. Plus you’ll have a much better time at the post race wine festival.” Also this: “Make sure you change out of cold or wet clothes before attending the wine festival.” This seems to imply there will be a place to change clothes, no? Actually, NO. There was no place to change clothing. No tent, shelter, building, or other area to change clothes. I suppose I could have stood in the rain and changed outside in the park, but then I didn’t want to get arrested. So I enjoyed the post-race wine festival in my wet racing duds, shower curtain, and an added heat sheet.
Wine Festival! In July 2014, the wineries were distributed towards the edges of the downtown Sonoma plaza/park. This ensured that the line for one winery didn’t impede traffic flow. This time, all of the wineries were crammed into the center of the plaza. Since it was still raining, and there were zero other covered places to stand, people tended to jam themselves under the little tents that had the wine. While there were some larger wineries, I was thrilled to see smaller winemakers present as well. I did go back to get some more nuun, and I also took the opportunity to try the other Sonoma Creamery cheese crisps. Michelob Ultra was in a beer tent and since I dislike beer I wasn’t going to go there until I saw that Michelob Ultra now makes hard seltzer. Surprise! It is actually delicious. I tried two flavors (because I’d also been sipping wine and I had a brief but winding drive back) and the spicy pineapple is my favorite. I’m looking forward to finding this locally.
The only completely covered place that wasn’t crowded to the gills was the merch tent. Pre-orders were ready and waiting for pickup. I scored some new goodr, which I clearly needed because I only have like 20 pair. It was still raining, I was still wet, and after grabbing a cup of coffee we headed to Sonoma’s Best for a grab-and-go breakfast (mocha and an egger) before heading home to showers, a nap, and the Air BnB’s hot tub!
What Others Said
The following are direct quotes from the race’s Facebook page, posted in response to a race-day announcement that the company knew about the delay. I have used the initials of the names as used on Facebook (which may or may not be a person’s legal name). So far, there are no response from the race.
“Really disappointed in this race. Reeked of greed with no regard for the safety and well-being of the runners. Between the poor transportation, late start leaving underdressed runners standing in the cold rain for an hour waiting to start, and having cars driving both ways on the course, you’re lucky someone didn’t get seriously hurt. And a $200 ticket price? No thanks. Never again and will never recommend to anyone.” B.J.
In response to B.J., above, J.G. wrote: “well said. A total slap in the face.”
“Last shuttle arrived at 8 am to start after waiting an hour in the rain. Just to be told “run that way” no warm up no excitement no start line experience.. Doomed to get picked up by a van to drive us to the finish because “despite the late start” they had to open the roads. I feel cheated out of what should have been a great experience.” J.P.
“Ran this one in 2017. Enjoyed my time there, but the race was not well-managed. Would not recommend.” A.T.B.
“This was such a disorganized mess of a race. No lighting on the walk to the top of the hill waiting area. Tripped on a wire the guy was installing at the starting line as I had to use phone flashlight to try and see. Delayed start waiting 30+ min in the cold after having warmed up AND my checked bag was lost. I love this race but this was just too much. Hoping my bag gets found!!!!” W.J.
“This is the worst company – all they really care about is signing you up for next year! They actually pretended there was NO wetgear concern at all[.]” J.D.
“Stood in the cold rain for 30 minutes trying to get a shuttle… now the shuttle driver is blasting the A/C… is this a joke? I’ve run many many races… so far this one is a double thumbs down[.]” J.G.
Pre-race: Good communication, timely packet mailing. Misleading published start time and course limit. Misleading statements about changing clothes after the race.
Race Day, starting line: The shuttles were inexplicably a hot mess. Do not wait until the last shuttle, please. If you do, don’t demand a late start. It is obnoxious. If it rains, expect to get soaking wet at the start, and possibly stand around for an hour in the rain–plan ahead for this.
Race Day, post-start: Do not believe the published course limit. You absolutely do NOT have a full 3.5 hours unless the race starts on time AND you are the first across the starting line.
Course: Beautiful! Lovely! Amazing!
Post-Race Festival: Have fun!
I’m not sorry I went to this race, but this will be my last year running it. The experience doesn’t justify the cost for me (and I can run other races and enjoy wine country).
Did you run Napa to Sonoma 2021? What did you think?
You’ve probably heard that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” If that’s true, race directors across the country are falling all over each other to get in line to flatter race director Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell and his Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee 1000k challenge. (For those keeping track, runners have from May 1 to August 31 to run the approximately 621ish miles across the state. A real human has already finished, and is “resting” before doing the miles to “run the other way” back to the start.)
Hmmm, that would make a good blog post…
Yesterday, I opened an email from my friends at Blue Ridge Racing. (They are the team that puts on the Blue Ridge Marathon.) Like many race organizations, all of their in-person races are canceled this season. The email was notification of the Virtual Interstate Challenge, to run the distance of I-81 in Virginia. When I shared this virtual race across Virginia with my accountability group, one of the members posted about The Great Run Across California, which is a 155, 347, or 705 mile challenge with team options.
Since I thought this was hilarious, I posted it in the facebook group for GVRAT1000 (one of the few spots on facebook guaranteed to be positive, uplifting, supportive, and 100% free of politics, bickering, woo-woo goop-esque advice, and fake-news). Within minutes the other members of the group were posting about virtual races across their states too! One runner even noted that a NY-based run was calling itself the largest virtual race, at least until a GVRAT100k runner pointed out there are around 19,000 runners signed up to run with the one and only Lazarus Lake.
It’s NOT too late to sign up to run across Tennessee with Laz, but this is America–you’ve got options! [EDIT: I stand corrected. You can still jump on this run, BUT you can’t enter any miles you ran before you registered.]
For your unbridled merriment, I present The Complete (as of now) List of Run Across A State races! NOTES: I have attempted to collect up the same information for each race so that you can make informed decisions about how much you want to run, how much you want to pay, which charities you want to support, etc. I have also attempted to find the actual event page for each event, if one exists. The most accurate information will ALWAYS be on the race’s homepage–so go there and verify! The entry fees listed below DO NOT include the processing fees charged by the registration platform, and DO NOT include any extras. Some races include a medal and a shirt in the basic swag, others do not. Read carefully!
(If You Just Want to Run For the Glory of Running…)
DetermiNation Runs the Country (June 1 to June 7) Distance: Join Others in Running Across the Country Race Director: American Cancer Society Charities: American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation Registration: $25 (no shirt) or $50 (shirt) Special Note: Fundraising incentives include goodr sunglasses and more https://runsignup.com/Race/NY/NewYork/DetermiNationRunstheCountry
Amerithon (no date restriction) Distance: 3,521 miles (run, walk, bike, swim) solo or team Race Director: Run the Edge Charities: Unknown Registration: $75, $50, or $25 (you choose the level of swag you want) https://shop.runtheedge.com/pages/amerithon
America Strong Mileage Challenge (June 1 to June 21) Distance: How many miles can you run? Race Director: Planet Ultra Charities: Not applicable (help Planet Ultra survive this time) Registration: $35 (options to avoid race platform fees) Special note: everyone who runs 15 miles per week will be added to a prize drawing http://runplanetultra.com/americastrong-mileage-challenge
Mountains to Sea Virtual Run (June 1 to September 20) Distance: 350 miles Race Director: Upstate Ultras Charities: Unknown Registration: $60 Special detail: choose from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, or Virginia (belt buckle design features the state you choose) https://runsignup.com/Race/SC/Sunset/MountainstoSeaVirtualRun
Run the States Challenge (May 25 to September 7) Distance: 379k (Missouri), 630k (Kansas), 1000k (I-70 Challenge) Race Director: Unknown (the race website does not include this information) Charities: the Canine Challenge proceeds go to unnamed “local animal shelters” Registration: $39 (MO or KS), $49 (I-70), $25 Canine Challenge https://runsignup.com/Race/Info/MO/KansasCity/I70VirtualChallenge
The Great Run Across California (May 1 to August 30—teams have 30 days) Distance: 155 (San Francisco to South Lake Tahoe), 347 (SF to LA), 705 (whole state)—team or solo Race Director: All Community Events Charities: The Children’s Heart Foundation Registration: $29.99 (through May 20); $40 https://runsusa.com/greatrunacrosscalifornia
California Coast 500 (June 8 to September 7) Distance: 500 miles (Santa Monica Pier to San Francisco); option for 100, 250, or 400 Race Director: Run Local Charities: programs to feed children Registration: $60 https://runlocalevents.com/california/
Chase the Jester Across California (May 25 to December 31) Distance: seven options from 220 miles to 1,364 miles Race Director: “The Jester” (Edwin William Ettinghausen, presumably with help from Andrea Ettinghausen Charities: Project 99 (fighting teen suicide); Living Free (animal sanctuary) Awareness & Action: Push the government to get 988 (the newly designated National Suicide Awareness & Prevention Hotline) operational NOW—the Congressional oversight committee approved it in December 2019 but they “need” 18 months to put it into place? NOPE. Let’s get that 988 operational NOW. It’s much easier to remember than 800-273-8255 (the current number) Registration: $59.88 and up (longer events = more bling) https://runsignup.com/Race/CA/SanFranciscoLakeTahoeLosAngeles/ChaseTheJesterAcrossCalifornia
Virtual Colorado Trail Challenge (June 1 to September 3) Distance: 500 miles (solo or team) Race Director: Bear Chase Race Series/Runners Edge of the Rockies Charities: Colorado Trail Foundation; Tunnel to Towers COVID-19 Heroes Fund Registration: $65 solo; $130 2-person team Special Note: there are competitive category challenges (e.g. most vertical feet in one day) https://ultrasignup.com/register.aspx?did=77426
Colorado Trail Challenge (June 1 to August 31) Distance: 486 miles Race Director: 3W Races Charities: The Colorado Trail Foundation; Athletes Serving Athletes Registration: $70 Special notes: option to bike all your miles, or to enter a combined run/bike/etc.; relay team option (up to 6 run/walk or 3 bike); 28 digital badges; facebook group https://www.coloradotrailchallenge.com/
The NUTmeg Challenge (May 25 to July 14) Distance: 155, 253, or 328 miles Race Director: Unclear (not stated on event website) Charities: Connecticut Food Bank; Bridgeport Rescue Mission; Mercy Learning Center Registration: $35 (register by June 1 to be guaranteed a medal) https://runsignup.com/Race/Events/CT/Anywhere/TheNUTmegChallenge
The Sunshine State Challenge (May 18, 2020 to June 30, 2021) Distance: 1,121 miles or 330 miles Race Director: Advanced Running Project Charities: ReTree PC (tree planning to replace Panama City trees destroyed in Hurricane Michael) Registration: $60 https://www.sunshinestatechallenge.com/
The Great Run Across Illinois (May 1 to July 31) Distance:390 miles (north-south) or 210 miles (east-west), solo or team Race Director: All Community Events Charities: Illinois Nurses Foundation Registration: $34.99 until May 20; $40 after https://allcommunityevents.com/greatrunacrossillinois
The Great Run Across Minnesota (May 1 to August 30) Distance: 407 miles or 181 miles; solo or team Race Director: MNruns.com part of All Community Events Charities: Special Olympics Minnesota Registration: $29.99 until May 20; $40 after https://mnruns.com/greatrunacrossminnesota
Run New Hampshire Challenge. (June 15 to October 11) Distance: 599 miles (team options available) Race Director: Millennium Running Charity: Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Registration: $30 http://www.millenniumrunning.com/runnh
The New Jersey Virtual Challenge. (May 15 to July 15) Distance: 28 miles (Boardwalk Challenge), 117.2 miles (Run the NJ Turnpike), 172.4 (Run the Garden State Parkway), 289.6 (Toll Booth Challenge ), 579.2 miles (Jersey Devil Road Tour Challenge)—the website has these broken out by average miles per day Race Director: CompuScore Charities: CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for kids in foster care), The Community FoodBank of New Jersey Registration: $40-$85 https://www.compuscore.com/
New York State Virtual 434 (May 15 to September 15) Distance: 434 miles (Niagara Square, Buffalo to Times Square, NYC) with options for 70, 150, 290, and 868 miles Race Director: Score This Charities: FeedMore WNY (fka The Food Bank & Meals on Wheels) Registration: $60 Special detail: run/walk, bike, and swim offered as separate events https://www.nysvr434.com/
One NY Virtual Challenge (“now” to August 31; last day to register is July 5) Distance: 1000k or 500k (team or solo option) Race Director: Upstate Event Management LLC Charities: Direct Relief (COVID-19 PPE and medication) Registration: $60 https://runsignup.com/Race/NY/EntireState/OneNY
NYCRuns Subway System Challenge (Memorial Day to Labor Day) Distance: 245 miles (New York City Subway system tracks!) Race Director: NYC Runs Charites: Robin Hood Relief Fund Registration:$0 Turnstile Jumper (no swag); $60 Token Collector (sweet swag!!); $100 Transit Enthusiast (sweet swag and surprises) https://nycruns.com/race/nycruns-subway-system-challenge
Run OBX (May 25 to September 7) Distance: 300 mile Run OBX; ? Run and Ride; 800 mile Run the Ridge and Run OBX (see entry below) Race Director: Unknown; this information is not on the race website Sponsors: Coastal Hillbilly Leather goods, RC Outdoor Supply, Ridge Supply, Grafig, Seaside Silk Screening, EDA Surf Charities: unnamed food banks that serve the Outer Banks region Registration: $45 or $80 Special note: race swag is all made by North Carolina businesses, including shirts (designed by Grafig in Carolina Beach and printed by Seaside SilkScreen in Wilmington), medals (Elevation Culture), and awards with goodies https://www.run-obx.com/
Run the Ridge (May 25 to September 7) Distance: 500 miles Race Director: Unknown (this information is not on the website) Sponsor: same list for the Run OBX above Charities: unnamed local community food banks in the Blue Ridge Mountains Registration: $45 or $80 Special Note: The Blue Ridge Mountains go through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and West Virginia. This event is NOT the Blue Ridge Racing virtual event. https://www.runblueridge.com/Race/NC/Cherokee/Runtheblueridge
The Great Run Across Ohio (May 1 to August 30) Distance: 227 miles or 454 miles (solo or team) Race Director: OhioRuns.com, part of All Community Events Charities: Whole Again (at-risk children) Registration: $29.99 through May 20; $40 after https://ohioruns.com/greatrunacrossohio#prereg
Buckeye State Challenge (May 16, 2020 to June 15, 2021) Distance: 1,118.87 miles or 250 miles Race Director: The Advanced Running Project Charities: Shoes 4 the Shoeless, Inc. (provides properly fitting gym shoes and socks to kids) Registration: $60 Special Note: There’s a cycling challenge too https://www.buckeyechallenge.com/
Run Washington Challenge (June 20 to September 22) Distance: five options from 35 miles to 277 miles Race Director: Unknown (the race website does not include this information) Charities: Seattle Children’s Hospital; Food Lifeline Registration: $35 (lower mileage) $80 (277 miles) https://runsignup.com/Race/WA/Seattle/RunWashingtonVirtualStateRace
WAVE Run 500 (June 1 to September 7) Distance: 2325 miles (Long Beach to Cape Flattery), 265 (Cape Flattery to Port Orchard), or 500 miles (Long Beach to Port Orchard) Race Director: Run Amok Racing, Inc. Charites: Kitsap Humane Society; South Kitsap Help Line Registration: $50 or $60 ($20 for doggos, but no swag for Fido) https://runsignup.com/Race/WA/PortOrchard/VirtualRaceAroundWesternWashington
The Great Run Across Wisconsin. (May 1 to August 30). Distance: 176 or 314 miles (team or solo) Race Director: WisconsinRuns.com, part of All Community Events Charities: Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance, Hope Council (substance abuse), and Hunger Task Force Registration: $29.99 through 5/20, $40 after https://wisconsinruns.com/greatrunacrosswisconsin
Elsewhere in the World…
The Virtual Swiss Alps 800 Race (May 16 to August 16) Distance: 800k Race Director: Jakob Herrmann, Founder and Race Director of the Swiss Alps 100 Charities: Not applicable Registration: $50 https://www.swissalps100.com/vSwissAlps800.asp
The Great Canadian Crossing (July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021) Distance: 4800 km (2982.5 miles! WHOA!) or choose a single province Race Director: 5 Peaks Charities: NA Registration: $85 CDN (full country) $65 CDN (one province) +mailing if outside North America Special Note: separate options for run/walk, bike, and “multi-sport” (anything self-propelled) http://www.5peaks.com/thegreatcanadiancrossing
Okay, what did I miss?
I’m in a bit of a hurry to get this posted, since several of the events have a discounted price that expires today (May 20, 2020). While I did run some quick searches and ask around a bit, I’m sure I’ve missed some “run across [your state here]” events. Feel free to drop a link in a comment.
Most of us are looking at another month or more of “Stay At Home”–I’m in through July 6, at a minimum–and races throughout Oregon and SW Washington (and the rest of Washington, for that matter) are cancelled. California races are cancelled. Pretty much all the races are cancelled. That’s okay because running is NOT cancelled, camaraderie among runners is NOT cancelled, and swag and bragging rights are NOT cancelled. If you’ve never connected to the running community on social media, now is the perfect time to join a virtual challenge. Motivate to run/walk/wog/whatever those miles by connecting with a challenge or a virtual run club. Unlike a virtual race (which happens once, you probably do it by yourself, and maybe you forget?) a challenge or a virtual rub club is ongoing support and a reminder to get off the couch!
The Original Edition
Run The Year. “Virtual” since the start! You can choose to literally “run the year” (2020 miles or kilometers), alone or as part of a team, or you can choose your own goal. For the Basic fee of $25, you get access to an easy-to-use mileage tracker (it lets you separate out walking and running and “other” miles), a private facebook group (plus a regional facebook group–once the virus ends, we can meet new runners at local meetups!), and a mileage guide. Upgrade to the Deluxe package for $39 to score a medal, legacy coin, and mileage tracking poster (it’s color-by-number-of-miles!). If you want to Get It All, spend $59 for all that and a bag of chips I mean a sublimated Run the Year tech shirt. See all of your options at https://shop.runtheedge.com/pages/run-the-year-2020 and don’t forget to join the Uncanceled Project (it’s free!)–your race on your day–to get those sweet custom photo bibs I know you’ve seen on Insta.
I’ve been a member of Run The Year since it started. My favorite aspect of this group is that ALL runners are welcome. This isn’t a club about being speedy–though there are speedy members. There are walkers, too. There are people brand new to any kind of exercise, and people who regularly take home trophies. It’s an encouraging space. Last year I volunteered to lead the Portland-area Facebook group, and I met some great people. Plus I’m apparently still a child and I love coloring in my poster.
The Ridiculous Edition
The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee 1000k. If you’re really into running, like to the point where you read about other people running, look up stuff online about running, or like to hear “war stories” from really crazy serious runners, you’ve probably heard of the Barkley Marathons, aka “the race that eats its young” according to the documentary subtitle. (Trailer on YouTube, film on a variety of platforms.) Despite the fact that few people enter and almost no one finishes, making it almost automatic social distancing, the race is off this year. So race director Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell came up with something else: The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee. It’s a mere $60 and you have from May 1 to August 31 to run 1000k BUT the miles only count if you cover them AFTER you sign up (and that’s run, walk, treadmill miles) https://runsignup.com/Race/TN/Memphis/TheGreatVirtualRaceAcrossTennessee1000K
Now why on earth would I, a banana slug of a “runner,” who hasn’t done 50 miles to date this year, sign up for #GVRAT1000? I think back to my earlier running days, when I lived in California, and some of my friends were telling me about The Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World: run a half marathon Saturday, and a full marathon on Sunday. My reaction? “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of!” So when The Dopey Challenge premiered a few years later, I signed right up. Maybe this time I hope to learn some geography? Call it the Go Big Or Go Home principle, if you will, but there’s some magic in publicly declaring that you are going to do an insane thing. Also, it’s find of fun to do the impossible. Take it from Bib #14066. 18,000+ runners in 68 countries can’t be wrong!
P.S. if that’s not enough, perhaps your pooch can motivate you? There’s a separate division for doggos! The cost is half of the human registration (Laz says it is half as hard to run that far on four legs) and 100% of proceeds will go to animal shelters in Tennessee. So grab your pupper and go!
The Local (As I Define It) Edition
At the outset of this section, if you have the resources to support your local running club, local running store, and local race directors, PLEASE DO IT. I know many of you have lost your jobs or lost some income that makes this impossible; to you, I say go forth and shamelessly apply for every running “scholarship” there is for your local runs: then get to doing it, talking about it, and wearing the local swag. I recently read an article about coffee that mused after all this is over, Starbucks might be the last roaster standing. (Blog post forthcoming.) PLEASE DO NOT LET THAT HAPPEN TO RUNNING. While big, national “road show” type races are fun, local races give back more to your community. The money almost all stays close to home (to pay vendors, suppliers, and for security, etc.), and almost every race gives some amount of the entry fees to a local charity. A smaller local race can happen in a town that can’t support a marathon of 20,000 which means more runs in more places.
SF Virtual Run Club. California is where I really started running, and Run Club was my first stab at running with people on a somewhat regular basis outside of races. Usually it’s an in-person thing, with a short run and a cross-training workout during the week, and a long run on the weekend, plus plenty of social time. Runners are often training for, or “targeting” the same SF Bay Area race. This year? We’re going the distance, at a distance. The virtual summer season starts May 16 but you can join late if you’d like. http://www.sanfranciscorunningclub.com/
Reigning Roses Walk. This annual event is the main fundraiser for Rose Haven, a women’s day center in Portland that receives no federal funding. Rose Haven provides services to women, children, and gender-nonconforming individuals to achieve self-sustainability, with dignity and respect. The programs include medical, access to showers, mail service, and classes. Reigning Roses was never a run. Instead it was a sort of parade, with participants carrying jaunty umbrellas and live music. While social distancing and anti-gathering rules currently in place make it unsafe to hold the event this year, and there is a virtual version, I’m betting participation will be down. That would suck, because Rose Haven does great work and it’s likely even more women will need help in the wake of COVID-19. https://www.makeitreign.org/event/reigning-roses-2020/e275129
The Environmentally Friendly Edition
Griffith Park Virtual Re-Run. What happens to all those race shirts and medals when the race is over? I know some races will sell them next year as “vintage.” The Race for Warmth uses the shirts for people who late register the next year (so if your size is unavailable, you get last year’s shirt). The people that direct the Griffith Park Run had a better idea: let’s make a new race to use them up! You sign up for 6k, 8k, or 12k and run by May 24th. You get a random shirt, medal, and bib from a prior run, a Gu product, and a Re-Run sticker. $5 of your entry fee goes to the L.A. Emergency COVID-19 Crisis Fund, organized by The Mayor’s Fund of Los Angeles. At only $22.50 (which includes your swag mailed to you), it’s a bargain that also does good (both by repurposing ace swag, and supporting the LA community). Register: https://runsignup.com/Race/CA/LosAngeles/GriffithParkVirtualReRun
Brazen Racing Retro Remote. I learned about this one right after I hit “go” on the original post. Brazen Racing is a much-loved trail race group in California; die-hards who run each of the 20+ events in a year become “Streakers” and receive official numbers at the end of the season. Brazen has pulled ONE medal from each of their prior events to make this happen. As the website explains, “Those participating will have the opportunity to choose which one of those medals they want to get mailed for their virtual race package. Every medal sent out as part of this event will be unique and the medals are available on a first-come/first-serve basis. If you want to know what each medal looks like, you’ll have to do some searching around as even we’re not sure where/if pictures exist for every single one! Or you can just pick an event medal from a certain year and be surprised.” Distances include 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon, 30K and 50K (the normal Brazen distances) and you can run solo or with a team. “The goal is to at least start your run by May 16th, but there are no strict rules here. We’re just trying to celebrate the good times we’ve had and the good times to come!” https://brazenracing.com/retroremote/
The National Edition
Even though I’d strongly encourage you to run local and support your local race directors and charities first, I have to give a nod to the national series races which are also not happening.
Zooma Run Club. Zooma specializes in women’s destination races, and this is a women’s run club. Sorry gents! Set your own mileage goal for the year (250 to 2500) and get swagged when you bag it. Zooma will also have giveaways, in addition to a private Facebook group, a Strava club, and more. If you join now, you get inaugural member status (which makes it sound like this club is here to stay, even past the Stay At Home era). Price: free option, swag packages at $65 (before June 1) or $75 (after June 1). You have the option to add-on more swag (hats, jackets, etc.) and the summer challenge for an additional fee. What can I say? The hoodie was really cute… https://zoomarun.com/zooma-run-club?
Rock ‘n’ Roll Virtual Run Club. Price: free, though completing a challenge gives you the option to buy finisher swag, and there’s some sort of points system (no idea what the points are for yet). Personally I have given up on this one, as the recording platform that Rock ‘n’ Roll chose to use cannot connect to Strava, and they do not connect to Coros. NO STRAVA? What the what? True story. Sport Heroes, the platform Rock ‘n’ Roll chose to use, can only connect to the following apps: Garmin, Polar, Suunto, FitBit, Nike+, Runtastic, Map My Run, Runkeeper, Health Mate, Rouvy, Decathlon Coach, TomTom, and Movescout. The only one of these apps I use is FitBit. (I also use Strava, Coros, and Charity Miles. I do NOT need to use another app just so I can do a Rock ‘n’ Roll virtual.) While the FitBit app recognizes “activities,” and Sport Heroes can import all the data, the RnR VRC will only recognize an activity if you set your FitBit to “run” before you go run. Sadly, this is not stated anywhere in the RnR VRC materials, so I missed out on the first VR 5k–I signed up and ran 5k, but didn’t push the special button on the FitBit, so it did not count. BTW no explanation from Rock ‘n’ Roll even after I filled out the feedback form, mystified that I’d run 5k but RnR VRC showed zero miles–I had to find this out from a savvier friend! So for the second week I pushed the button to start and end a run. You might think this fixed the problem, but you’d be wrong. Turns out my FitBit and my Coros had slightly different data, so FitBit said I did 9.82k and not 10k. As a result, RnR did not recognize my finish (so no badge, etc.) though I did get 99 points (whatever that is?) for the week. The Sport Heroes explanation for why they don’t connect to Strava is lame, and frankly sounds like it was written by a whiny, overprivileged, teenager who is used to getting away with whatever they want. It also contradicts Strava’s statement, and I’ve got a solid, multi-year relationship with Strava, and trust them. Strava’s explanation is short and sweet: Sport Heroes aggregates Strava data with no transparency about it, in violation of Strava’s rules. So if YOU are interested in attempting a Rock ‘n’ Roll Virtual Run Club event, you can give it a whirl. I’m out.
The Sponsored Edition
Honey Stinger 50 Mile Challenge. This is a challenge you sign up for directly on the Strava app. (Why couldn’t Rock ‘n’ Roll just use Strava? So easy, free for everyone.) If you’re not familiar with Strava, it’s a great place to connect with other runners, and with running brands. Honey Stinger is one of the companies that encourages runners on Strava by hosting a run club, and sponsoring various challenges. Head to the Strava challenge page to sign up. Finish 50 miles in the month of May and score a badge for your Strava profile plus a pack of the brand new Honey Stinger Plus Chews. Fifty lucky participants will also score a race kit (though there are 189,000+ people signed up so it’s a bit like the lottery).
If you’re not familiar with Honey Stinger, OMG go check them out! My favorite products are the caramel waffles (they also have gluten-free options) and the caffeinated cherry cola chews. Pro tip: to avoid crushing your waffles, use medical tape to affix 1-2 waffles to the back of your race bib. (Medical tape is cheap, will hold the waffle in place flat, and is easy to rip off the bib without any damage.)
The UnderDog Edition
The Ordinary Marathon. Scott Rieke, aka the Ordinary Marathoner, started this ten-day event three years ago. This year, it runs (pun!) from May 8 to May 17. Every year, runners from all over run their miles (maybe a marathon, maybe not!) during the course (pun!) of the race and connect on social media. The photos later become part of the #OrdinaryMarathon slide show video. There are daily prizes, too. Entry fees also support a charitable donation to help pets ind a “furever” home. This year the optional in-person 5k isn’t happening, but that’s not stopping the event. It’s an Ordinary Marathon because anyone can do 26.2 over the course of 10 days–even you! $30 to register, includes a medal and treats, shirt is optional extra. http://www.ordinarymarathon.com/
What are you running in May?
Know a great race that had to go virtual due to the virus? Got a run club that’s “meeting” online? Drop a link to the registration page with your comment!
Disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored post. No one even knows I am writing it. I didn’t get any bonus, incentive, or anything else to write this post, and every single word is mine. I’m a proud “Brew Crew” member, and since the March and April events are rescheduled and it’s for a good cause, I signed up for the qua-RUN-tine too.
It’s a qua-RUN-tine!
Yeah, so this just started today, and I’m still figuring out how it works, so if this part is wrong, oops. Since we can’t have our usual Oregon Brewery Running Series runs right now, this is what we’re doing. It’s $45 to enter, and the charity partner is Oregon Community Foundations’ COVID-19 Relief Fund. After you sign up–do that here–you join the group on Strava (which is how they track your miles). Strava is free, and you can connect it to your running watch or other gadget as well as a bunch of other apps.
There are prizes at 10, 25, 50, and 100+ miles, plus weekly giveaways. Even if you don’t join the qua-RUN-tine, the Oregon Brewery Running Series is having virtual Happy Hour (or should that be hoppy hour?) on Saturdays in April. Basically you go for a run, and then have your cool down (and a beer?) using videochat. Get on the mailing list, so you can join in via Zoom.
UPDATE!!! NOW THERE IS A MAY QUA-RUN-TINE CHALLENGE!
UPDATE: It’s nearly May, and we are still staying at home. Even though our testing capacity is going up, Oregon is seeing fewer confirmed cases and fewer deaths. That means IT IS WORKING!! If we keep it up, we can continue to “flatten the curve,” and ensure the Oregon health system is not overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.
For the MAY challenge, participants will set a goal during sign-up. Prizes are based on whether you hit your goal, and how close you get: 25% of goal: Wooden Coaster; 50% of goal: Socks; 100% of goal: Free run entry or t-shirt; 120%+: Beer Delivery from participating breweries! Weekly virtual post-run happy hours and live-streamed concerts will continue. Like in April, the May challenge is $45 to enter, and the charity partner is Oregon Community Foundations’ COVID-19 Relief Fund. After you sign up–do that here–you join the group on Strava.
The 2020 Brew Crew Season
Last year I bought a ticket to the season opener, a party at the Oregon Historical Society (or was it the museum of Oregon history? something like that) and an exhibit on the history of brewing in Oregon. I didn’t go because I didn’t know anyone else who was going, and I wasn’t feeling up to a big party solo. This year the running season kicked off with a Brewfest at the Run Pub. Yup, you read that right–Portland Running Company has a Run Pub. During the kickoff everyone could sample a variety of beverages from the hosts of this season’s events. There were a variety of local eats and a food truck too. Now I know a lot of runners balk at paying to run an untimed event, especially if it’s a 5k-ish, and extra-super-especially if there’s no medal. But trust me this is $30 well spent. (If you were smart and bought a multi-pack, you paid way less than that.)
The Venues. Each event starts and ends at a different Oregon brewery. The course is a loop through whatever is nearby, so you might be running a neighborhood, or you might be running around industrial parks. So far in 2020 we’ve run four places (though I’ve only made three). LEVEL beer is an old-school arcade game themed tasting room in NE Portland with a gigantic outdoor space (currently a heated tent); it hosts food trucks in the parking lot and has super cute merch. HUB–the Hopworks Urban Brewery–in Vancouver has a full service restaurant with a variety of food (though if you don’t get the pretzel sticks appetizer, you’re nuts). Baerlic has a small tasting room in NE Portland with an outdoor event space (heated tent–which I loved since it rained and was chilly!) and a pod of food carts.
Pre-Race “Registration.” This is the antidote to “packet pickup.” Ticket sales are through Eventbrite (which conveniently sends you reminders in case you’re like me and forget what you signed up to run and when and where.) Show up as early to get your ticket scanned and decorate your bib. The event bibs look the same for each event, and you can personalize them with a variety of sharpies (or even bring your own decorations). There’s usually coffee, and sometimes there are pre-race snacks (I hoovered a donut at Baerlic). If you’re really worried you’ll get lost (you won’t) there’s a map you can study (or snap a pic).
The Starting Line. All the people, and dogs, and strollers head out to the big inflatable start/finish line for a quick but energetic warm-up–think squats and range of motion type of movements–and an explanation of the course. After a few group photos everyone takes off running.
The Course. Each course is a loop, making logistics easy. It’s not a closed course and you’re supposed to obey all of the traffic laws. This means you’ll spend most of the time running on sidewalks or paved park trails, though in some areas there’s basically no traffic and it’s safe to run in the street. Every single corner or turn has a cheering volunteer holding a big arrow sign and giving directions. No course-markings to worry about–there’s always a real person to show you the way!
The Finish Line. The official photographers will snap more pictures as you cross the finish line. Then it’s time to get your wooden nickel–redeemable for the pint of your choice–and turn in your raffle ticket. (If you want more raffle tickets, you can visit with the sponsors and vendors.) Don’t forget to grab your swag –your choice of what’s available that day, usually pint glasses, coffee mugs, and more–and some snacks. The Franz bakery is one of the series partners, so there’s often bread or bagels to take home with you too.
The After Party. I only know one reason people run: they like to eat! Some of the breweries are brew pubs that have their own kitchen. Others host food trucks. Either way, I’ve never gone hungry. Some people bring their own food in–once a family did a whole birthday party! Of course there is beer for sale, too. The fastest man and women are recognized with “The Golden Growler” award, which they sign and redeem for their very own growler (contents included!). There are a few announcements, and an introduction to the charity partners for that season, then there’s the raffle. There’s live music too! Of course my favorite after party entertainment is petting all of the dogs, but you probably already guessed that.
Honestly, it’s pretty good value for $30….but if you’re smart, you bought one of the Oregon Brewery Running Series Passes. Unlike other race series, this one lets you share the races in a multi-pack. The Pint is six races ($139), The Growler is twelve ($249), and The Keg is a twenty-pack ($359). So if you got The Growler, you could run twelve races, or run six with a friend, or run one with an entourage. But really, the best way to do it is to join The Brew Crew at the beginning of the season ($279). Brew Crew members get an entry to every event, but you can’t share. That shouldn’t matter, as who can run all 26 events? Even if you can’t (and I can’t) there are other perks: a special series shirt, a second pint at every race, and four entries you can share with your friends. (So it’s really $279 for 30 races–26 for you and 4 for friends!) But really, that’s $10.73 per race, so even if you only run half of them, you still end up way ahead!
Top Reasons to Run the Oregon Brewery Running Series
Excellent Value. Did I mention there are also free race photos? If you want to mug for the photographers they’ll snap as many groupies as you like.
Everyone-Friendly Events. Speedy runner? Slow-poke walker? Stroller-pusher? Couple? Singlet? Entourage? Doggo? This is something you can do. The volunteers are out there until everyone is done.
The Beer is Optional. Yeah, I know, I’m the weirdo running the BREWERY running series who doesn’t like beer, and I get two pints per run (one for the event, and a bonus for Brew Crew). So far, the venues all have tasty local cider as well. HUB usually has cider (I had one last year) but they were out this year; fortunately they also have wine on tap!
Have you attended any of the Brewery Series Runs in Oregon, or another state? Or been to a brewery run? Tell me about it!
The Roses on the River event was originally slated to start on the west side of the river. For those unfamiliar with Portland, the Willamette River runs through town, separating the west side from the east side. (Not to be confused with the Columbia River, which runs east-west and separates the north-most part of Portland, Oregon form the south-most part of Vancouver, Washington.) Downtown Portland is immediately adjacent to the river, and there is a paved promenade/walkway next to the water in addition to Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Part of the draw of the Roses on the River run is that the race is sponsored in part by the Portland Thorns, our winning women’s soccer team (which played short several team members at the beginning of the season as they were busy kicking butt as part of the U.S.A. women’s national soccer team…you know, the national soccer team that actually wins World Cups). This is a BIG draw to the event; instead of yet another race shirt, participants receive Thorns scarves (that’s what soccer fans wear) and a ticket to the Thorns game.
This year, the racist groups Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer decided to come to Portland from out-of-state and hold a “rally” on the same day as Roses on the River, a decision they announced what seems like just a few days before the race. For those of you not playing along at home, Portland fancies itself to be a liberal and inclusive town. In a state with a significantly racist history, modern Portland is at least trying. This makes white supremacists angry enough to don matching polo shirts and/or riot gear, board rented school buses, and head to Portland to…find people to beat up? I’m not sure what they actually plan to do, because they just seem to end up brawling in front of local businesses and breaking windows downtown. Maybe they want their closeted-white-supremacist-brethren to “come out” as modern Klansmen? Maybe they just wanted to mess with Roses on the River? At any rate, they aren’t local, and they seem to show up to antagonize protesters who identify as anti-fascist (some of whom are also not-from-Portland violent thugs, so at least they have that in common).
Race organizers for Roses on the River reacted by moving the entire event out of downtown, and over to the east side of the river (which does not have a gigantic stretch of park like the west side, but which does have a paved multi-use trail for running, biking, etc.) to what is apparently called the “Eastbank Festival Plaza.” This was entirely sensible, leaving the Portland police less to worry about downtown and providing runners with a ton of free parking. It also put the starting line within walking distance from my apartment.
The Thorns? They pulled their sponsorship of the race. That’s right, no Thorns at Roses on the River. While runners still got a ticket to the Thorns game, they did NOT get the limited-edition Thorns scarf—one of my big reasons for signing up for the race. The Thorns officially cited “liability,” which is a bogus excuse given that (1) all participants sign a liability waiver, and (2) the race moved across an entire river, away from the “rally” area, and police shut down the bridges. I suspect the REAL reason the Thorns pulled out is that they were afraid people would lose or abandon their scarves, which the white supremacists might grab on their way to the brawl, and therefore might end up in pictures of rioters and thus become “bad optics” for the Thorns. Nevermind that they could have avoided this by only handing scarves out at pre-event packet pickup (and changed the rules to DQ anyone wearing one), or mailed or otherwise made them available only a day or more after the event. Nope. They just pulled out. Race organizers didn’t even have time to change the website to show that runners wouldn’t get a Thorns scarf—I found out AT the race!! (I later found out the Thorns also forbid the race organizers from handing out any leftover scarves from 2018. Seriously.)
Due to the change in location and change in space, I suspect several companies that had planned to be at the start/finish area also pulled out of this year’s Roses on the River. Like I didn’t see Jersey Mike’s, which was supposed to give finishers a half sandwich (not that I cried over this too much, since races often don’t provide vegetarian sandwiches). It almost makes no sense, since there was MORE parking, and plenty of space under the bridge. I was very pleased to see my favorite race supporter, the Franz bakery grilled cheese truck! After the race I grabbed a grilled cheese bite and a loaf of delicious glutenous goodness to take home.
I arrived about ten minutes before the starting time. (I want to say the race had self-sorting heats, with the walkers starting first, but I wouldn’t stake my life on that.) There was no line to pick up my bib and attached timing chip, and no worries about where to put my scarf because I didn’t get one.
The race was a 5k only this year (some past years did have a 10k option) starting from the Eastbank Festival Plaza, just north of the Hawthorne Bridge. The course was an out-and-back, south past OMSI, past the Ross Island Bridge, and a bit further south before the turnaround and return north to the start. The path was not closed to other uses, but the few other runners and cyclists out there were pretty reasonable.
In the spirit of “I am supposed to be training for the Chicago Marathon–and you should definitely donate to my fundraiser for Team Imerman Angels–I had intended to run/walk intervals. Unfortunately, I was still learning how to make the intervals on my watch work, and so the entire event was timed as a warm-up. Oops. After I realized my mistake I did some self-timed intervals. The plan was to run 3, walk 2, but my lungs were not game to play, so I did more run 2 or 1, walk 1 or 2. Near the end I got inspired to kick my own butt and turn on the speed, and ran right past some folks mustering for the riots under the Hawthorne Bridge before I crossed the finish line. (I later went back to look at them, and took a photo—super obviously, not even trying to hide it a little—to post to facebook so my friends would avoid the area. It was hard to tell who they were as a few had on MAGA hats, but there was also a riot medic—something I associate with the left—and some punch-out Donald Trump masks that were a very unflattering parody, along with lots of black commando-style gear and bandanas over faces and a big show of going to shake hands with the police officers babysitting them.)
I did appreciate that the walkers got to go in the first heat, and not just because I got to sleep in a little. Many had finished by the time I started, and the ones left on the course had spread out. There were also plenty of walkers, as Terrapin Events (the race company) is serious about making walkers welcome. While out on the run I saw plenty of families, and also parent-kid combos, and high school track runners.
Then I collected my cider—2 Towns Ciderhouse and Widmer Brothers Brewing provided post-race adult beverages—and my grilled cheese bite. There was music and some people were dancing as I picked up samples of vitamins disguised as a fun-sized candy bar, after which I sauntered down to a nearby restaurant to eat brunch with some of my peeps.
Would I run it again? Maybe, if (1) I’m actually going to get the Thorns scarf I was promised, and (2) there is no sissy-boy “I’m exerting my First Amendment rights” nonsense going on. (Yes, I’m still a bit sore that the Thorns didn’t make any effort to get the promised scarves to runners, especially since I bet they were ordered well-enough in advance that they exist somewhere.) It would also have to be on a weekend when there are no competing events, as I run up and down the sides of the river on a fairly regular basis. The race organizers and the runners and vendors were great, and created a festive atmosphere. If you are looking for a low-key 5k that is also timed, Roses on the River might be your Portland race.
Disclosure: Today I have a guest post from Colleen Cleary. In January this year I put on my brave pants and went out to a fun run where I didn’t know anyone. That’s how I connected with Colleen. If I didn’t already have plane tickets for a non-negotiable event, I’d go to RunAway Girl’s Weekend! When I heard about it, I offered Colleen the opportunity to write a guest post because I think it sounds awesome and I wanted to share with you! All of the words and images below are from Colleen(if I make a little edit, I’ll put it in brackets so you know).
A big thank you to Elizabeth for inviting me to share with all of you about a passion project of mine. As a health coach and distance runner, I created RunAway Girl’s Weekend because I had the desire to bring together women runners for a weekend retreat at a local venue. In the summer of 2018 I was inspired by a visit to Abbey Road Farm in Carlton, Oregon. I immediately knew I had to host an event there and couldn’t wait to invite my BRFs (Best Running Friends).
This weekend celebrates everything beautiful about women’s running. From sharing the challenges of our sport to sharing laughs and stories and finding commonalities as well as a sense of belonging and community. [ERB here: one of the things to love about having a running community? You can engage in your favorite solo sport and be social at the same time. I think I’d love this retreat because Colleen’s about to give you permission to run like a rabbit or a tortoise or just take a long walk to kick off the weekend.]
RunAway Girl’s Weekend happens October 19th & 20th this year and starts with a trail run at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey in Carlton, Oregon. This year the route takes runners on a one mile warm up loop then uphill for 1.5 miles to a gorgeous view at the top and the joy of running those same 1.5 miles back downhill to the start. It has been confirmed that the running police will not be in attendance this year so participants have the option to complete the one mile warmup only, to repeat the one mile warmup loop, or tackle the entire course. I completely understand and welcome anyone who feels like that they just need a relaxing walk, a combo of walk/run or full out run. [ERB: check out the photos of the area around the Abbey on their website!]
Once finished on the trails, participants can grab some hot coffee or tea & a snack before heading just half a mile to Abbey Road Farm where the rest of the retreat takes place. Samantha Baker WithRadical Wellnessis returning again this year to lead a yoga class on the lawn designed just for runners. The combination of Samantha’s sweet spirit and understanding of runner’s needs won over everyone last year even a couple of yoga skeptics.
The day continues with yummy food and a class taught by Brooke Galster-Boston of Cypress Counseling Services. Brooke has put together a talk with a focus on the pursuit of happiness and how it effects our mental health.
The fun doesn’t end there! There are optional massages, wine tasting and visiting with the adorable farm animals that reside at the farm to also enjoy.
For overnight guests there will be s’mores around the fire pit and a dance party in the ranch house. The next morning everyone will gather for breakfast and an optional group walk.
Spots for this weekend continue to fill up but there are still both overnight and Saturday only options available. Pricing and further details can be found at colleencleary.net/events
For all of you that kindly took the time to read this blog post today you may take $20 off your event fees just by mentioning TrainWithBain at the time of registration!
Want to connect with me further? I hang out on Instagram under my name here, and the event has it’s own page here. I’m also on Facebook and would love to connect with you!!
[ERB: Don’t be intimidated! Colleen is an adult-onset runner too! She’s also a RRCA Certified Running Coach. Can’t make the retreat? You can always sign up for her mailing list to be the first to hear about next year.]
Disclosure: I’m not an ambassador for the Run Revel series–but I sure would like to be! Revel definitely needs a Portland-based crew now that we have our own “hometown” Revel here, don’t you think? You know, someone to hang out at the annual Fleet Feet all-races expo, the weekend days of the local race expos, hand out flyers at the community events, make sure all the running stores have flyers…
2019: The Second Annual Revel Mt. Hood race! It’s not every race series that considers you a “legacy” runner at just your second year, but that’s definitely how Revel rolls. As I mentioned in my review of the Inaugural Revel Mt. Hood, I signed up for 2019 pretty much as soon as registration opened. (I had a great time, so why not?) This year my friend Tina flew in from Alaska for the weekend to join me, because the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics designated Revel Mt. Hood as a reunion race. More on that later. I was bummed to miss Revel Mt. Charleston this year (see my review here), so it’s great I now have a hometown Revel!
Expo At the Convention Center! While the Oregon Convention Center (actually the Portland convention center, but Portland likes to pretend it *is* Oregon) is perpetually under destruction–I’m not kidding, half the doors are boarded up, the statute dedicated to MLK is under a tarp, and there is landscaping going in officially in the name of beautification (but maybe in the actual name of preventing the homeless from sleeping there?)–it’s still a good spot to hold a race expo. It’s accessible by MAX, then a walk to the currently functional doors, and a quick run through an adult habitrail to get to the rooms used for race expos right now.
Small, but mighty… With a Saturday race, it’s a one-day expo. Tina went early to grab her packet, as well as a few for friends flying in late; I went after work. Neither of us experienced much of a line. This year I love the color of the women’s tank (you choose your shirt at registration: tank, short sleeve, long sleeve, or soft non-tech cotton), and this year’s swag was a pair of Revel-themed goodr! Everyone got to choose either a black or a light blue-green (which reminds me of the Sunbathing With Wizards goodr I completely banged up by losing the safety cloth…). Revel isn’t an inexpensive race–so register EARLY and get the best prices–but the swag is always quality. In past years, I’ve received socks, a beanie (the warm kind with a hole for your ponytail), and a Headsweats hat.
The swag bag included pre-race essentials, including a heat sheet and a pair of tosser gloves (though I’m cheap and re-use them for sweat during the race, and then wash them to use them again). There were also some very random samples (probiotics for runners, okay) and an event guide. This year the expo also had some fun new photo ops. Speaking of photos, ALL participants get FREE race photos!
Like last year, there was an app to enter to win a race. Each of the main race sponsors had a code to enter. Aside from the Revel series, the other sponsors included my favorite bluetooth headphones, Aftershokz (see my review), the Portland Marathon (now under management by Revel’s parent company), Honey Stinger, and, ugh, doTerra was back as a race sponsor. I still really hate that Revel has chosen to partner with a multi-level marketing (MLM) company of any brand. (MLMs prey on stay-at-home-moms and women in conservative religious communities. Most people lose money as MLM “independent sales representatives.”) The best thing I can say is that at least the “independent consultant” there wasn’t overly pushy. Once again, there is no mention anywhere on the website, at the expo, or any of the printed literature to warn runners that doTerra’s “blue” rub–available on the course–contains sweet almond oil. If you are allergic to nuts, THIS IS DANGEROUS! Especially on a long course with infrequent medic stations. (No thanks, I’ll stick to BioFreeze when I need a muscle rub.)
New at the expo this year (or at least I don’t remember seeing them last year?): Eastwind Running & Endurance Club, which has a Wednesday night summer run series on Portland’s east side; a photo booth with props; and the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics booth, which had membership sign-ups, information about the clubs, and clearance merch (all of which was too small for me, at least in the styles I like). Since I didn’t leave work until 5, there was just enough time to chat our way through the expo, hang out with Gregg (the regional Half Fanatics/Marathon Maniacs ambassador, or at least one of them), take some photos, and race off to dinner–naturally I wrangled the group over to McMenamin’s Kennedy School, where I showed off a gem in Portland’s history.
Get on the bus, Gus. As with last year, the bus loading at the Lloyd Center hotel began at o’dark-thirty. With a first wave starting at 5:00 a.m. the marathoners got on board first. (I think they boarded at like 2:00!) Even though we swore we wanted to be in bed by 9:30, it was closer to 11:00 and the morning came way too early. Tina and I had prepped our gear the night before and walked over to the hotel in plenty of time. New this year: deluxe motor coaches for the drive to Mt. Hood!
Herd in the Corrals. The half marathon holding area was in the same place as last year. Basically, it’s perfect: not too far a walk from the start, plenty of room to hang out, loads of fresh porta-potties, water, and a DJ. What’s not to like? Like last year, I brought an extra heat sheet and made like a grounded baked potato pre-race. The busses arrived a bit later this year, so there was less slacker time before the race. In addition, this year the race was earlier in the year, so the sun came up earlier–rewarding runners with gorgeous views of the moon over Mt. Hood on the walk over to the start.
Run All The Miles (or 13.1 of them)!
The Course. As near as I could tell, the half marathon course was exactly the same as last year (which is fine by me–I knew exactly what to expect!). I remembered the mini-hill early in the course, and the uphill around mile 8 or so, and the uphill to mile 10, and the uphill at mile 12. Half marathoners enjoyed a great deal of lovely shade, green, and river views from mile 1 to mile 10, when the course joins the marathoners and Highway 26.
This year I felt like I totally smoked the first four miles. This is, of course, 100% subjective and bears no rational relationship to my actual speed. I started out trying to do the intervals assigned for my Chicago Marathon Training (I was supposed to run five miles with intervals of run 3, walk 2), but I messed up setting my watch and so had to time them manually. By mile 4 I was done with the intervals, and I ran random segments as it felt good. Still, without a solid training base? It was awesome! I felt fantastic. (In the pictures? Yeah…not so much. Still, I do love free race photos as a perk.)
The last three miles felt MUCH better than last year, but were not as amazing as the first few. One major change this year: the bus route changed. Last year, after turning onto the road that leads to the Rainbow Trout Farm (the finish line venue) at some point the running route aligned with the route the return buses took. This year, instead of bringing the buses out to the trout farm, Revel used golf carts to take runners out to the buses (waiting on a major surface road on the other side of the trout farm). It was delightful to run without bus fumes! Off-roading in the golf cart was a little bit like the adult version of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride;” I’m confident the driver was safe and did a great job (she’d been at it since 6 am!) but I was wearing running clothes, and the slick fabric of my knickers was not helping me stay seated in the rear-facing seat!
Eat All The Foods.
Finish Line Perfection. Since I’m a slowpoke, I had the pleasure of being individually announced as I crossed the finish line. I grabbed a towel from a giant tub of ice water, as well as a bottle of chocolate milk and a bottle of water. After a quick stop at the (still very fresh!) finish line porta potties, I washed my hands (they had the water pump stations with soap and paper towels) and headed over to the Fanatics and Maniacs tent.
Each year the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics, two related clubs for people who are crazy enough to run tons of race for fun, choose several races to be “reunion” races. This draws people out from all over the place, as these special races come with a club tent (with tables and chairs, if you want them), and–for those who sign up properly–bonus swag! This race included an extra towel, club event tee, and special bling! I love being a Double Agent (member of both Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics). I’ve met so many great people online and at races; it was especially fun to meet people literally on the run at events, as we recognized each other by our club singlets. The clubs also have a monthly newsletter, race discounts, and private Facebook groups.
Anyway, after I collected my checked bag (contents: Oofos, sunblock, face wipes, warm-up clothing) and dropped it on the shaded lawn under the club tents, I collected the snacks. First, a slice of cheese pizza from Papa John’s and an old-fashioned chocolate glazed donut. Next, an ice-cold Diet Coke. I spent the remainder of the morning hanging out with other club members under the tent, and occasionally taking pictures. Tina’s friend was sweeping the marathon so we waited until she finished to leave–putting us on the final bus back to Portland (alas, a regular school bus) after the wild golf cart ride from the finish area.
Disclosure: I returned to the Blue Ridge Marathon races in 2019 as one of the official race ambassador-bloggers. Race ambassadors receive free entry, swag, and the VIP experience in exchange for assistance in promoting this race. Speaking of the race, you can register for 2020 RIGHT HERE. See you then?
Funny story, I distinctly remember getting to mile 19, but all of my notes from 2017 say I stopped at mile 17… If you missed Part 1, I recommend you start there.
Avenging a DNF Begins With…
When registration opened for 2018, I signed up to run. In the interim I changed jobs and moved back to Oregon, so the 2018 race didn’t happen for me. In 2019, I signed up again. I also applied to join the ambassador team again, to help spread the word about how much I love this race. I also signed up for the training program again. I also did not finish the training program again….yeah, so life happens sometimes, and you have to put o your grownup-pants and decide what to do. Undertrained, a little fatter, but basically eager to return to Roanoke and give it another try anyway, I decided to go for it. Jackie also planned to return and run the double, but unfortunately she injured herself and had to drop out. I ended up rooming with Jessica, which was perfect (though I’m bummed Jessica and Jackie didn’t get to meet, as I’m sure they’d get along famously!). This year I flew into Raleigh, met friends for dinner, and spent the night before the drive up to Roanoke. The drive is pretty and green, and not very stressful even though it took me about three hours; Google maps sent me up largely on state highways that I would not have guessed were highways, and I saw lots of both North Carolina and Virginia. (At one point I pulled off the road to make sure I was still getting directions!)
Expo 2019 at the Patrick Henry
In 2017 the Expo was in a different location, so it was a bit like going to a new race. On the way into the hotel, representatives from Foot Levelers greeted each runner with a cinch-backpack and stickers for the appropriate distance. Packet pickup was upstairs, and the traffic flow was pretty much perfect to get your packet, walk past some tables for local races, and then head back down the stairs. One thing I love about this expo is that the race-specific merchandise is all high-quality, with a smaller (but awesome!) selection. Since I have sweet ambassador swag to rock, this year I bought one of the Deneen pottery 10th anniversary ceramic mugs. There is always a tasting for the hydration on course (Skratch fluid, as well as the gummies) and the local Fleet Feet had a selection of race-day essentials on hand. I snagged a Squirrel Nut Butter (that stuff is the best!). This year, Get 2 Know Noke sponsored a happy hour lounge, with one free beer or flavored non-alcoholic seltzer for everyone who signed up for their mailing list. The Roanoke area is right next to the Blue Ridge Parkway (you know, the race goes there?) which is managed by the National Park Service, and the hiking, biking, and running are all high-quality. Jessica introduced me to some of the other BibRave Pros running the event, and we took a break before heading over to dinner.
Pasta Dinner & Galloway Running School
I knew from the 2017 event that I wanted a ticket for the pasta dinner. Not only was it the easiest pre-race dinner, it also meant seating for the Friday night concert, and shelter from the rain (it rained a little bit, but it wasn’t a big deal—no more than sprinkles). This year, Jeff Galloway came to run the Blue Ridge Marathon for the first time and as part of his appearances he was offering “Jeff Galloway’s Running School.” I signed up because I wasn’t sure when I’d have the opportunity to attend again, and as a certified run coach I figured it would be neat to hear from an Olympian.
Running School was not what I expected. First, there were no handouts or outlines. I took plenty of notes though, so here are the highlights (at least as I saw them). Jeff is very big on some material I’m not familiar with yet, a book called Spark that is supposed to recap research showing running promotes brain health, and another book called The Story of the Human Body that emphasizes that running was a short distance activity for most of human history. That led to an explanation of how and why to use “walk breaks,” which are key to what has come to be called the Galloway method. He explained how he lays out his training plans, as well as his observations—most of which are based on his experience coaching, as opposed to data from weekend-warrior types runners—which include using a long run that is longer than the distance of the goal race. (On the theory that people tend to hit the wall within a mile of the long run they did in the three weeks prior to the race.) This is the opposite theory of the Hanson’s Method, which also seems to be producing fine runners.
Jeff Galloway is now in his 70s, and has run six days per week, every week, since he was 16 years old. This turned out to be both an advantage and a disadvantage, as some of his advice on injuries and performance nutrition haven’t kept pace with the most current research. For example, he doesn’t recommend ANY type of warm-up prior to running, and instead uses the first mile as his warm-up. This might be great for someone who has run six days a week for several decades, but it doesn’t seem like great advice for those of us who drive a desk five days a week and don’t run as often. (He’s right that pre-run static stretching is a terrible idea though—the research tends to show stretching before stressing the muscle decreases performance and increases the risk of injuries). He’s also still a fan of ice, which I agree has its place but shouldn’t be used on joints or after every run—inflammation is a result of the healing process, and is necessary for muscles to repair themselves. I disagree with some of his very broad-brushstroke nutrition advice, including what to eat the morning of the race (he says nothing, unless you need it for “gastric motility;” I’d pass out if I ran without eating some carbs and a wee bit of protein an hour or 90 minutes before the race) and salt (he says avoid salty food on the grounds that it takes plasma from the blood and makes it harder for the body to replace lost fluids; I notice that I need salty foods to replace the electrolytes I lose through sweat—I could be a DIY salt facial after a race). He’s down on cross-training (which makes sense if you’ve been running all your life) and only does weight training for postural muscles (useful trick, even if I disagree with his conclusion on the grounds that it doesn’t work on my body).
After running school, I met up with Jessica and we went back to the hotel. I had a glass of wine while we set up our flat runners. Neither of us slept much that night, because Jessica had to be at the starting line for the Double Marathon at some ungodly hour like 3 a.m., and because I always have a hard time sleeping the night before a race—this one more than any other, because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen the next day: Just like 2017, I arrived at the starting line in 2019 underprepared. I hadn’t stuck to the training plan (for all new reasons, sigh). I had gained some extra weight. In the interim I had learned I have exercise-induced asthma.
If Only The Days Started Later…
The alarm went off after what seemed like ten minutes of sleep, and I dragged myself out of bed to suit up and drive over to the start. There was plenty of nearby parking, so I arrived with plenty of time to head to the VIP breakfast in the library and on the patio. While there was a fantastic spread with plenty of coffee, I chose my snacks conservatively and packed a “to go” waffle (the Honey Stinger kind). One last use of the indoor plumbing, and it was down to the starting line.
As in 2017, the corrals were self-sorting. Friendly runners were mingling, taking selfies, and shaking out the pre-race jitters. I found Jessica, who looked fresh after having run the whole marathon, and was ready for her second loop. She was hanging out with the 6:30 pacer, and I decided to join them. It wasn’t long before we were off. Our pacers chose a “steady effort” method, which makes sense on a super hilly course. The idea is that instead of aiming for a specific time per mile, the time per mile would vary (uphill and very steep downhill are both difficult; flat and gentle downhill are easier) but the amount of effort would stay as even as possible.
I stuck with the pacers up to the first mile? Maybe second mile? I can’t remember. It was fun running with a group for a bit, but as we started to take a relatively easy jog up the first gentle climb, I couldn’t catch enough air to keep running and busted out the inhaler. I passed the turnaround for the half, and ran into the national forest section. I remembered the rolling hills, and then crossing the highway to the first serious climb, up Mt. Roanoke. In my head it was a hard climb in 2017, but this year it was even harder in my body. Abut 1/3 from the top of the climb, I had to start taking breaks to catch my breath that included stopping completely. Step, step, step, step, stop. Over and over. I felt very wimpy. I must have looked equally awful because at several points as I was climbing up, runners passing me on the way back down asked if I was okay instead of cheering for me.
I have never had my lungs act up so obnoxiously as they did going up Roanoke Mountain. After my 2017 DNF I learned I have exercise-induced asthma. I had my inhaler with me. (I have never had any serious complications, and I had both my phone with extra battery and my RoadID with me. I promise that even if I am crazy, I take health and safety VERY seriously.) After that, I couldn’t run at all—my legs were willing, but my lungs not so much. But since I took a DNF the last time I tried this, I was determined to finish. Even if it didn’t happen until Monday.
At the very top I took just a moment to pause and admire the hard-earned view. Then it was time to head back down, down, down Mt. Roanoke. I tried to make some runs, as I’m usually pretty good at downhill, but my lungs couldn’t suck in enough air to make it happen. At that point I began to suspect there was no way I was going to make the race’s 7-hour cut-off. You know how runners talk about distance being a mental game? This was that, exactly. There were a few others in front of me, and I think one or two behind, so it was pretty quiet as I continued on my way back towards Roanoke and Mill Mountain.
Suddenly, It Was Just Me.
As I approached the aid station at the turn to Mill Mountain, all of the volunteers cheered and offered me water, Skratch, and snacks. The aid station is right at the split, after you descend Roanoke but before you go up Mill, a very nice race official/volunteer said, “You know you missed the cut-off, right?” Inside, I cried and thought, “damn, I hope that is not a problem…” Outside, I said, “Well, I do now…” Mr. Race Official asked if I needed anything, or if they could do anything for me. I should have said “please save me a medal, because I WILL finish.” Instead, I said, “no, thank you, I have plenty of fuel and fluid.” Mr. Race Official did not tell me that I had to stop. (I’m also not a jerk. If a race official tells me I must do something, 99 times out of 100 I will do it. I will always seriously evaluate a black flag on the course, an EMT or similar who is looking at me like I might die.) So I kept going, up to the top of Mill Mountain. Another race person stopped as they drove past and asked if I was okay, and when I explained that all I wanted to do was finish, I ugly cried a little bit but promised I’d be okay.
Atop Mill Mountain I took the world’s lamest selfie with the Star. The aid station was all packed up neatly. For a minute I thought seriously about taking a bag of pretzels, but they were big bags and I wasn’t sure how I’d carry one once I opened it. Besides, I did have plenty of snacks. So it was down Mill Mountain, where I saw a really sweet looking dog who I assumed belonged to the moo-mosa house, but didn’t (I asked when I went by). The moo-mosas were gone by the time I got there, which I expected. It looked like a good time was had by all!
Every volunteer I saw asked if I needed anything (I had packed nutrition and hydration, but did take some water and chips). One woman, who appeared to be the head of a stop on the way up Peakwood, apologized that the aid station was closed! I assured here it was supposed to be closed, and she had nothing to apologize for, since I knew I was late and expected the aid stations to be closed. she still offered me one of everything in her car, and when I accidentally left my tube of Tailwind in her van, one of the younger kids (teenager) ran to catch me to deliver it!
Sure, I missed out on the moo-mosas (I had one in 2017, so that’s okay) and the champagne on Peakwood (I had some later, so that’s okay too). But I kept rolling. Every time a volunteer drove by, they waved and cheered. The guys taking down the course cones and signs all asked if I was sure I was okay. (Clearly I’m a head case, but yeah, I was fine.) When I hit the point where the cones had been picked up and traffic was back to normal, I side-walked myself. I wanted a DNS–Did Not Stop.
The app was great for the map, though I took a minor re-route on (Jefferson?) as there was a bridge/flyover with no apparent sidewalk. Unfortunately I got off course after the loop in south Roanoke and when I realized it, I was 2 miles away from the finish line (but my watch already said 25.xx). I ended up taking the shortest route back from wherever i was, which still had me over 26.2. I saw some yellow birds with a pretty song that I’ve never seen before. I saw a billion cardinals, and some dogs, and the easter bunny.
At several points I thought I might be going crazy, because only a crazy lady decides to finish a marathon on her own, right? But again, phone with extra battery (I was prepared to call a Lyft at the first sign of lightning) and plenty of fuel and fluid. Two different cars stopped on my way down Peakwood, asking if I needed a ride. (Roanoke-ians are so nice!) The one thought I was nuts to be walking in the rain, I’m sure. Then I passed a cooler that still had extra water pods and one bottle of cold beer inside. The crews dismantling the course’s directional signs, cones, and road barriers were all surprised I was still out there–asked if I needed anything (including a ride back to the start) and wished me good luck.
Here’s The Theme: Persevere
At almost 9 hours, and over 27 miles, I trudged into Elmwood Park. One of the guys dismantling the rest of the chute recognized me and said, “Hey! You finished!” Hell yes, I DID! But…not within the official posted time limits. When I crossed where the finish line used to be, I cried. (Wouldn’t you?) As I was climbing up Roanoke Mountain and my lungs were screaming, I thought, “I’m glad I’m here this year, I can’t do this again.” But…now I feel like I have to go and finish within the time limits.
I posted my story and asked the race officials if they would send me a medal. I know not everyone would agree with me receiving a medal–I finished, but not within the time–but I’m not posting it on social media or sharing photos. At least not until I make it a special little “Finisher & DNF” sash.
Seriously, if you’re looking for a challenge you should try one of the Blue Ridge Marathon Races. If you’re not up for a full marathon get a team together for the relay, or run the half or the 10k. For a fairly chill race-cation, volunteer at the race and join the runners for the Slow K on Sunday.
As you may have guessed from my lack of blog reviews on the 2018 Rock ‘n’ Roll Series, I had a less than amazing experience for much of the year. Combine the lacking and lackluster race experience with the most frustrating ambassador experience I have ever had, and I just decided my blog didn’t need it. Out of an abundance of caution–I knew I could not return to the ambassador team (RIP Rock ‘n’ Blog) if I didn’t see some serious changes–I bought a bib to Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco 2019 at the expo, so I wouldn’t lose my legacy status.
Pro tip: If you are an Active Advantage member–that’s the membership you pay for, not free usage–do NOT buy pre-sale bibs at the race expo. You WILL be charged the Active fees (which you get for free as an Advantage member) and the free tee shirt probably isn’t worth it.
Pre-Race Expo. San Francisco is an easy town for public transit, and the Uber/Lyft/app-cabs are plentiful. I flew into SFO and took BART to Embarcadero, then walked from the BART station to the Expo out at Pier 35. The weather was lovely, so I didn’t mind a walk, especially after a flight. My expectations were low for this expo; frankly, the expo has sucked since it left the Moscone Center. (Originally I assume the expo moved because Moscone was under construction; no clue what the story is now.)
Bib Pickup: Status Same-Old. Once again, the race did not sell out in advance (as it did the first three years at least) so you could register at the expo. I’m guessing the City of San Francisco granted a permit for 8000. There were only 7000 numbers, and one of my friends who registered at the expo was given number 7575, a little underwhelming. The bibs are the same gigantic papers they have used for years; their enormity has led many to fold them or pin them somewhere other than “completely covering my entire torso,” though at least they now have integrated timing chips AND a station at the expo to test and make sure they work. The race waiver is now two separate waivers, and though they send out like ten pre-race emails about them (“remember to sign your waivers!”) almost no one does–like who even owns a printer? Bib pickup also included an LED light wristband (more on that later).
Race Shirts…Better Design, Cheaper Quality. I really wanted to like this year’s race shirt, especially after the horribly generic shirts that Ironman offered to Rock ‘n’ Roll participants in early 2018. While the design is much better, everything else is worse. First, the shirts came individually wrapped in plastic. This is unnecessary on the consumer end, but may indicate that the shirts have changed country of origin. (Federal law requires fabric goods from some countries be shipped individually wrapped in plastic. When I worked at Macy’s we literally filled a dumpster with plastic bags each time we unloaded a truck.) Second, the shirt quality is cheap. The fabric isn’t pleasant to the touch, and it is rather sheer. Third, there are tags sewn into the collar of the shirt, and they are not the easy-tear-away tags found in most athletic clothing. Fourth, the shirts are sized even smaller than previous years. I always order a women’s XL so that the shirt isn’t too short and isn’t too tight. This year, the women’s XL is both. When I took it out of the bag and flattened it, it wasn’t even shaped–it was a rectangle/box like a man’s shirt. Finally, the design placement is weird and unflattering on every body I saw with a shirt on it. Verdict: unwearable. They could cut costs by offering a tee-shirt-quilt panel instead of a shirt.
Race Bags: Still Plastic, Still Awful. When I first started running Rock ‘n’ Roll races, the bags were durable drawstring bags made of gym bag type fabric. Themed races–Los Angeles/Halloween, Vegas/Strip at Night–had themed bags. The series later changed to cheaper fabric bags that were not as durable–the hard edge of a box might cause a tear–black for every race, no themed bags. Eventually the series switched to plastic bags that tear if you look at them funny (though they are durable enough for a few uses as a post-race laundry bag). Allegedly these are for security, but they are frosted and not sheer, so I don’t believe that’s the real reason. They must have ordered a billion of them. When I have time to plan ahead, I bring an empty one so I don’t have to take yet another plastic bag. The contents are as tired as the bags: sample of shave oil that claims to be the best invention since shaving, sample of Calmoseptine (which I find uncomfortable and stinging, but my friend Andrew uses it so he takes all my samples), discount card for a boxed meal service, discount card for produce delivery. The better way to do this would be to put these items out at a “help yourself” station (where I would take ALL of the Hemp Hearts samples!). Or at least have a space at the expo to dump the stuff we won’t use. It’s such a waste.
Merch: HUGE UPGRADE. Last year the race merch was sparse and poorly designed, and included a rack of what I guess you would call “stuff we found in a warehouse somewhere and ought to try to sell.” The only potentially interesting race-specific merch were the Ironman-style shirts with all of the participants names on them. (Personally, I do not see the appeal, but that’s because the last shirt I had like that was a 1980s elementary school fundraiser.) This year there were several options I liked, and many more that even I can see are a HUGE upgrade: a wall of trucker hats, racks of beanies, shorts, tights, quarter zips, tanks, long-sleeve, short-sleeve, and more. There is also a line of tie-dye themed stuff (socks, knock-off Flip Belt, etc.) to match the Brooks Rock ‘n’ Roll shoes released last year (and the shoes are back). The people working at Brooks weren’t that helpful though, as there was a bra sale and a friend of mine wanted to try a bra on but couldn’t get anyone to help her–at the end of the day, when the expo wasn’t busy.
Expo, Sponsors: Sparse. So other than Brooks and United Airlines (which has its own special medal this year for those doing a race in 2 of the 5 United hub markets), I’m not sure who is left. Toyota is gone, and there is no car company replacement. Geico wasn’t there (though I’ve heard a rumor that Team Geico no longer gets post-race massages anyway). Oh, I guess Michelob Ultra still sponsors the beer, but honestly most runners would rather have a local beer sponsor. United did have a cool photo op with a backdrop, and a pilot and flight attendant (or people dressed like a pilot and flight attendant).
Expo, Exhibitors: Improved. Last year, the expo was at least 1/4 and probably more like 1/3 empty tables/booths. I bought nothing (or at least remember nothing beyond how weird it is to have an expo with so many empty spaces). This year I was really thrilled to see a booth by Potatoes USA! In addition to freshly cooked multi-colored creamers to eat, they had a recipe book, stickers, and lip balm. I took advantage of the Pro Compression expo special to buy some of the new spring designs, and tasted the Honey Stinger offerings (though I didn’t buy, since I just stocked up at the Shamrock Run expo). I was glad to see Run Club SF and Marathon Matt, the race pacers. There were also a number of footwear, running gear, and race booths. Verdict: still a small, unimpressive race expo, but MUCH better than last year.
We Run Social Shakeout Run! This year, We Run Social and lululemon Cow Hollow co-sponsored a 5kish shakeout run. We started near the expo, took the obligatory groupies, I handed out RunGum, and the piled up our gear to be Ubered to lululemon. The rest of us took off on a quick run over part of the race course, up Lombard Street–which inexplicably appeared on the 2018 medal, even though no Rock ‘n’ Roll course has ever gone there (but it should!) and then headed over to lululemon. Once there, we had a mini-party! Hostess-with-the-mostess Ashley, founder of Every Runner Counts, greeted us with hint water (which I love!) and snacks, as well as a discount on certain items. I shared RunGum with the other staff working the store to thank them for putting up with us, and there were raffle prizes including We Run Social multi-function headwraps and Pro Compression socks! Afterwards a bunch of us headed to Amici’s to carb up.
Exhaustion sets in! At that point it was maybe 8:30, but I was Done With Saturday. The disadvantage of a fly-in, fly-out race weekend, I suppose. Since the first corral started at 6:15 a.m. I knew the morning would come all too quickly. I slept well.
About Those Corrals: Do Better. The theory behind the new corral system was very sound (that’s a pun, wait for it…): the City wouldn’t allow amplification (for music, for pre-race announcements, etc.) and, I’m told, didn’t want “crowd noise” outside for an extended period before the race started. The “well, they meant well” solution was to move the pre-corral hanging out portion to inside Pier 35, and use an LED light bracelet system to alert people when it was their turn to line up outside. Let’s talk about the logistics first. Pier 35 is north of The Embarcadero and has two doors: one to the west, and one to the east. ALL of the readily available parking, and nearly all of the hotels, are to the west of Pier 35. Rather than think that through–or maybe no one on the logistics team was local to San Francisco–the race set up the WEST door as the exit to the corrals. As a result, the massive wave of people I was walking with were stopped before the west door to let the first corral out of Pier 35. Not only could we not reach the entrance (the east door) until the entire corral had passed, but shorter people were elbowing their way up from behind me–hey, it’s not like we were standing around chatting, there were hundreds of people ALL FACING THE SAME DIRECTION who ALL STOPPED AT THE SAME TIME–and pushing people forward even though we could not, in fact, move forward. Hot mess, and uncomfortable, too. Once inside (after the corral left and the crowd got to the east door) the logistics crew bombed again. The tiny “stage” with the pre-race DJ and announcer was WAY in the back and poorly lit. It made total sense to put it in the back, since they wanted to keep everyone from cramming up near the corral exit, but since it was not well lit and tiny, it was difficult to find. It would have made much more sense to build a bigger stage, place it on the west wall (the east wall has a sort of separate room, and the restrooms, so that’s not an option) and throw some real lighting on it. Instead, people heard the sound system up front and stayed up near the corral exit door, creating a traffic jam. Also the pre-race bananas and water were BEHIND the stage–like yards behind it–so most people don’t know they were there. I only knew because someone in my group chat posted that they were all the way at the back.
Corral Bracelets: FAIL. This year, the race implemented a new corral system copied right from a K-Pop concert: LED light bracelets that can respond to a transmitter and pulse colors with the music. These should have been an excellent crowd management plan, but they were not. Let us count the reasons why:
Runners are stupid. Despite the signs on the wall at registration and the pre-race email that was only about the corrals (okay, maybe people ignored that since Rock ‘n’ Roll sent like 27 other emails about signing waivers), most people had no clue how the system was supposed to work. Thus when it malfunctioned, no one knew how to respond. (Add to this that like many electronic things with batteries, there was a plastic tab you had to remove to contact the battery and make the bracelet active, and many runners did not do that.)
Like I need something else on my arm for the race? If you’re a runner, you probably don’t need to do this, but if you’re not, take a look at Instagram and the runners there. One of the most popular post-run shots is a picture of your running watch (showing the run’s stats). Take a look at enough of them, and you’ll see that many runners have quite the arm-party going on: race watch (mine’s a Coros), Road ID, Momentum wrap(s), regular jewelry, charity rubber band(s), and maybe those temporary paper bracelets (Rock ‘n’ Roll uses them for the Remix weekends, and for pre-race ID to enter the beer garden in states where that’s allowed.) A big fat piece of plastic? Really?
OUCH. The bracelets are NOT adjustable (unlike their K Pop predecessors.) Now I don’t think I have particularly well-developed forearm muscles, but I definitely do not have dainty lady-arms. The bracelets were like the silicone charity bracelets you’ve probably seen (thing Livestrong) but about 40% was attached to the light/battery part, which was hard, inflexible plastic. I put the thing on my wrist and it pinched my skin. Since there was no way to adjust it, and that thing would not stretch, I ended up clipping my Orange Mud pack strap through it. Other runners just ditched theirs (as I saw many runners without them on race day).
SO. MUCH. PLASTIC. WASTE. Since the bracelets have tiny little screws, you can clearly replace the battery. This means they are reusable. I had hoped, pre-expo, that there would be collection bins at the finish line, to re-use or recycle the bracelets. NOPE. Unfortunately, it is cheaper to throw them away than it is to change the batteries. So every runner now has a useless plastic gadget with a battery to dispose of, and you can bet that 0% of runners disassembled the thing to remove the battery for proper disposal. They can’t be recycled in your recycling bin. Between the plastic bags on the shirts, the plastic race bags, and the uninteresting stuff inside the plastic race bags, I just don’t understand why Rock ‘n’ Roll hates the environment so much. HEY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL! DO BETTER!
Ridiculously overcomplicated. Pre-race, the bracelets were supposed to change colors and pulse with the music. (Mine didn’t do that more than twice.) There were 9 corrals, and each corral was assigned a different color. So when the first corral was supposed to head out, their bracelets were supposed to turn red. Only a bunch of them turned blue instead, and blue was assigned to the second corral. So the folks at the exit were trying to turn people back, because the had the wrong bracelet color, but they in fact had corral 1 bibs. I’m still puzzled as to why they didn’t go with the obvious solution. Since the bracelets could be programmed to only respond to some signals–the corral 9 bracelets, for example, did not turn red or blue or any other solid color when it was time for corral 1 to go–the obvious would have been “when your bracelet lights up solid green, go to your corral.” No need to remember what color your corral was assigned. We all know that green means go. They could have even removed green from the pre-race program, so that no one saw green until it was time to go.
Many dud bracelets. As I was getting pressed uncomfortably forward into the exiting corral 1, waiting to enter Pier 35, my bracelet did nothing. Not one light. The pattern around me seemed random, with some bracelets flashing colors, other with solid colors, still others like mine with no lights at all. Mine didn’t light up at all until I’d been inside for 20 minutes. Then it did a color change maybe twice.
The extras were meh. One of the on course activations–oh right, smart races don’t use that term because only crazy social media people and those in the industry know what an “activation” is–was for the bracelet to turn blue during the Wear Blue: Run to Remember mile that honors those who have died in service to our country. This could have been cool, but by the time we got to that mile it was broad daylight (cloudy, but daylight) so it was barely noticeable. It might have been cool at a night race, like the David Moo-nlight Race or Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas, but during the day it was meh.
Verdict: epic fail. Look, I get that this was a test-drive, and there are bumps and hiccups the first time. I can excuse some of those (at least for the bracelets–I’m sorry, but reversing the Pier 35 openings to west is entrance and east is exist is a total no-brainer), but there was no need to make it so complicated.
Race course: Decent as Usual. People are allegedly drawn to this race to get to run over the Golden Gate Bridge. My understanding is that the City, or bridge authority, or whatever, will no longer issue the race a permit to close down one lane of the bridge; personally, I hate running on the sidewalk and really miss the days when one lane of traffic was closed for runners to go north, and the southbound return was via the sidewalk. At least that way I got to see many more runners I knew, plus it avoided the descent and ascent necessary to pass under the bridge to return south on the west sidewalk. (The current course goes north on the east sidewalk, and south on the west sidewalk, which requires passing under the bridge on the Marin side.) The course is, otherwise, largely an out-and-back; this is an effective way to keep the permitting and costs down, as you have to close (and police/staff) fewer roads. It’s also nice to see Chrissy Field from two perspectives. It would be nice to change up the on-course photo ops–they have used the same few for the past several years–but if the data show that this is largely a “one and done” race (as opposed to one with repeat participants from year to year), then perhaps the expense doesn’t justify it.
Race Course Aid Stations: Well Done. For the first time in my Rock ‘n’ Roll experience, every aid station had what it promised to have. When I got to the gel aid station, there was plenty of gel, and even a selection of flavors. There was plenty of water and gatorade, and the volunteers were actively handing it out. (Some races, the volunteers get bored, and next thing you know you’re hitting an aid station with a bunch of kids on instagram.)
Finish Line Experience: Improved, but… This year the finish line had the usual finisher chute and odd little beer garden (part of the street, blocked off to traffic, and fenced in to keep the alcohol police happy) there were two new experiences. One was a stretch zone with yoga mats and straps, sponsored by Smile Direct. They also had wipes to detox the mats after the runners got off of them (because sitting in someone else’s sweat is gross). Inside the beer garden area there was also a recovery zone with those inflatable pressure boots, the thera-gun, vibrating rollers, and more. I didn’t spend much time there, but Briana did, so you can ask her about it. The beer garden also had a “pay to charge your phone” station. It was a nice touch, but the majority of people I know carry a power pack these days. Now, the finish line itself…I finished late in the game, for reasons of my choosing (one, helping someone, two, I really needed that Philz Truck coffee). The course has a 4-hour limit, and like my friend Ashley, I strongly believe that Every Runner Counts. I don’t care if you walked every inch, if you finished, you should be celebrated just like every other finisher. (Several years ago I kicked my butt, hard, to finish Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia, only to find zero food, zero water, zero hydration, zero anything in the finisher chute, despite seeing faster runners walking around with literal boxes of post-race food.) Super mad props to the volunteers handing out medals, the whole flock was still there and ready with medals. I was also happy to see plenty of bottled water (well, not happy it was bottled, but races have limitations) and Gatorade. MAD PROPS to Team Chocolate Milk for still having enough chocolate milk for us slowpokes! I also thought the snacks were good–bananas, Cheez-Its, and Ghirardelli squares with caramel–until I caught up with my faster friends at the beer garden. Some of them had multiple full-sized chocolate bars, not just one, as well as instant hash-browns (which I assume came from Potatoes USA, and they might still be learning). Also, there’s never a good way to carry your post-race snacks and you can’t re-enter the chute to get more once you’ve left. I need to remember to stuff a bag in my race pack.
Overall…I am biased.I started running Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco the very first year, when they had purchased race permits from another company. The original expo was huge, fun, and better than most other races. I’ve seen two good shirts, a few good medals, and lots of runners. Since I’ve run it every year, I’ll keep running it. It’s fun to head back to the Bay Area now that I don’t live there, and since I know so many runners who show up to this race it’s always worth the trip.
Soooo…. If you ran Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco, what did you think of 2019? If you’ve run in the past, but didn’t run this weekend, why not?