My Profile

@M_Sohaskey

Marina Del Rey, CA Raving since 2014 50 states aspirant/finisher, Seven Continents Club member, Marathon Maniac #9273 Blisters, Cramps & Heaves active 12 hours, 46 minutes ago

About Me

  • Running club(s):
  • Rave race:

    The Last Marathon (Antarctica)

  • Race that's calling my name:

    Comrades Marathon

  • I run because:

    it always gets me where I want to go.

My races

Organize, track & review your races and personal bests here.

Personal Bests (12)

Race Distance Location Date Result
50 Miler La Grange, WI May 14, 2016 9:54:30
50K Cool, CA Mar 4, 2017 5:35:39
Marathon Ojai, CA May 24, 2015 3:22:07
25K Olga, WA Jan 26, 2013 3:12:06
Half Marathon Oakland, CA Mar 25, 2012 1:34:02
20K Dallas, TX May 25, 2009 1:33:51
12K Sausalito, CA Mar 18, 2007 55:15
11K Irvine, CA Nov 11, 2011 53:45
10K Thousand Oaks, CA Dec 4, 2016 1:22:22
5 Miler Anchorage, AK Jul 16, 2011 36:03
3.6 Miler Soda Springs, CA Aug 7, 2010 42:58
5K Carlsbad, CA Mar 29, 2015 20:00

Future Races (6)

Race Distance Location Date Paid
89.9K Durban, South Africa Jun 4, 2017
Marathon Wright-Patterson AFB, OH TBD
Marathon Abilene, KS TBD
Marathon Kiawah Island, SC TBD
50K Big Bear Lake, CA TBD
Marathon Martinsville, IN TBD

Past Races (79)

Race Distance Location Date Result My Raves My Performance
50K Cool, CA Mar 4, 2017 5:35:39
Marathon Huntington Beach, CA Feb 5, 2017 3:44:41
Marathon Baton Rouge, LA Jan 15, 2017 3:31:13
10K Thousand Oaks, CA Dec 4, 2016 1:22:22
Half Marathon San Francisco, CA Nov 6, 2016 1:52:51
200 Mile Relay San Francisco, CA Nov 4, 2016
Half Marathon Vacaville, CA Oct 22, 2016 1:52:22
Marathon Omaha, NE Sep 18, 2016 3:47:22
Marathon South Williamson, KY Jun 11, 2016 3:53:23
50 Miler La Grange, WI May 14, 2016 9:54:30
Marathon Big Sur, CA Apr 24, 2016 3:44:21
Marathon Hopkinton, MA Apr 18, 2016 3:48:36
Half Marathon San Diego, CA Apr 2, 2016
Marathon Los Angeles, CA Feb 14, 2016 3:34:39
Marathon Oracle, AZ Dec 6, 2015 3:37:52
Half Marathon San Diego, CA Nov 21, 2015 1:35:26
Marathon Ojai, CA May 24, 2015 3:22:07
Half Marathon West Hollywood, CA Apr 19, 2015 1:36:49
5K Carlsbad, CA Mar 29, 2015 20:00
Marathon Lake Buena Vista, FL Jan 11, 2015 3:41:43
Marathon Folsom, CA Dec 7, 2014 3:24:15
Half Marathon Anaheim, CA Nov 16, 2014 1:47:15
Marathon Staten Island, NY Nov 2, 2014 3:32:04
Marathon Berlin, Germany Sep 28, 2014 3:24:14
Marathon Big Sur, CA Apr 27, 2014 3:56:19
Marathon Mobile, AL Jan 12, 2014 3:44:12
Marathon Jackson, MS Jan 11, 2014 3:43:36
Marathon San Francisco, CA Dec 7, 2013 4:17:38
Marathon Portland, OR Oct 6, 2013 3:30:27
Marathon Rachel, NV Aug 18, 2013 3:56:40
50K Modjeska Canyon, CA Jun 29, 2013 6:33:45
Marathon King George Island, Antarctica Mar 30, 2013 4:29:50
25K Olga, WA Jan 26, 2013 3:12:06
Half Marathon Los Angeles, CA Nov 17, 2012 1:48:00
Half Marathon Moab, UT Nov 3, 2012 2:11:22
Half Marathon San Ramon, CA Oct 20, 2012 2:29:11
Marathon Chicago, IL Oct 7, 2012 3:28:45
Half Marathon Antioch, CA Sep 8, 2012 2:10:54
Half Marathon Martinez, CA Aug 18, 2012 2:04:36
Half Marathon El Sobrante, CA May 19, 2012 1:59:19
50K Brentwood, CA Apr 21, 2012 7:39:51
Half Marathon Oakland, CA Mar 25, 2012 1:34:02
Marathon Los Angeles, CA Mar 18, 2012 3:37:53
Marathon Folsom, CA Dec 3, 2011 3:39:15
Half Marathon Camarillo, CA Nov 13, 2011 1:36:52
11K Irvine, CA Nov 11, 2011 53:45
Half Marathon San Ramon, CA Oct 22, 2011 2:33:46
Marathon Crazy Horse, SD Oct 2, 2011 3:55:22
Half Marathon San Francisco, CA Aug 27, 2011 1:40:04
Half Marathon Dallas, TX Aug 14, 2011 1:53:43
Half Marathon Castro Valley, CA Jul 30, 2011 1:52:34
5 Miler Anchorage, AK Jul 16, 2011 36:03
Half Marathon San Pablo, CA Jun 4, 2011 1:39:37
Half Marathon San Jose, CA May 22, 2011 1:38:08
Half Marathon El Sobrante, CA Apr 30, 2011 2:06:30
Half Marathon Austin, TX Feb 20, 2011 1:39:20
Half Marathon Huntington Beach, CA Feb 6, 2011 1:34:14
Marathon Long Beach, CA Oct 17, 2010 3:51:54
Half Marathon Manitou Springs, CO Aug 21, 2010 4:08:52
3.6 Miler Soda Springs, CA Aug 7, 2010 42:58
Half Marathon Davis, CA Jul 24, 2010 1:41:59
Half Marathon Napa, CA Jul 18, 2010 1:38:51
Half Marathon Santa Ynez, CA May 8, 2010 1:37:42
191 Mile Relay Calistoga, CA May 1, 2010
Half Marathon Dallas, TX Mar 14, 2010 1:38:40
Half Marathon San Francisco, CA Dec 5, 2009 1:58:12
Half Marathon San Francisco, CA Nov 1, 2009 1:42:29
Half Marathon Geyserville, CA Oct 31, 2009 1:40:03
Half Marathon San Diego, CA Aug 16, 2009 1:36:55
Half Marathon San Francisco, CA Jul 26, 2009 1:37:19
20K Dallas, TX May 25, 2009 1:33:51
25K Stinson Beach, CA Apr 11, 2009 3:30:54
Half Marathon San Francisco, CA Dec 6, 2008 2:07:40
Half Marathon San Francisco, CA Nov 2, 2008 1:45:42
Half Marathon Monterey, CA Nov 11, 2007 1:38:39
Half Marathon San Jose, CA Oct 14, 2007 1:37:53
12K Sausalito, CA Mar 18, 2007 55:15
Half Marathon San Francisco, CA Jul 27, 2003 1:41:11
Half Marathon Tahoe City, CA Oct 12, 2002 1:51:01

My Raves

Way Too Cool 50K Endurance Run

Way Too Cool 50K Endurance Run

BOTTOM LINE: Way Too Cool earns its name, from the awesome scenery to the race day temperatures to the chilly water that awaits at every stream crossing. As the largest … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: Way Too Cool earns its name, from the awesome scenery to the race day temperatures to the chilly water that awaits at every stream crossing. As the largest trail race in the country, it’s a bucket list event for serious dirtbags. And you may never find a more scenic and diverse course than the network of trails you’ll follow on your 30+ mile journey along the Middle Fork of the American River Canyon and through the Auburn State Recreation Area. The North Face Endurance Challenge, my benchmark for trail races in California, is a much different course than WTC—its jaw-dropping vistas of the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge notwithstanding, the trails and scenery at TNFEC are less varied than at WTC.

The reasonably challenging course (4,000 ft of elevation gain/loss) is predominantly single-track with no two-way traffic, so slower runners need never worry about the possibility of colliding with speedier oncoming elite and sub-elite runners. There’s even significant overlap (roughly 12 miles) with the iconic Western States 100 Trail. Along the way you’ll have the occasional croaking of the locals (it’s frog mating season in Cool) to relax your mind and remind you that you’re far away from the chaotic hustle and bustle of urbania. Plus, in early March you can be confident of cooler race day temps—the real variable when it comes to the weather is how wet you’ll get.

The icing on the cake at WTC is… well, the icing on the cake. Cupcake that is, since you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy the race’s signature frog cupcakes at the finish line festival. What better way to quickly normalize blood sugar levels?

PRODUCTION: Smooth sailing with no real complaints. Pre-race packet pickup gave us an opportunity to support the local Auburn Running Company, which feels like a shrine of sorts to the iconic Western States 100 Endurance Run.

Race day itself flowed seamlessly: the course was well marked with ribbons, leaving no chance for a wrong turn even after my mind switched over to auto-pilot mode in the later miles. And the finish-line festival offered one of the more interesting assortment of vendor tents, with the presenting sponsor Clif Bar joined by GU, Camelbak, Dickey’s BBQ, Red Bull, Sufferfest Brewing, Salomon, Rock Tape, KaiaFit, Squirrel’s Nut Butter (great to prevent chafing!) and Monsters of Massage.

Aside from the number of stream crossings, the only real issue for most runners will be the sparsity of aid stations, which were few and far between at miles 8, 14, 19, 26 and (I think) 29. Thanks to the cooler temps I didn’t need to carry my own hydration, but I did bring my own baby food pouches just in case I felt my blood sugar dropping.

*A note about parking: At our pre-race dinner the night before (at La Fornaretta, a comfy Italian restaurant in nearby Newcastle), there was anxious discussion about how early folks—including several WTC veterans—were planning to arrive the next morning to secure a good parking spot. Many folks planned to show up over two hours early and nap in their cars, just so they’d be assured of a parking spot as close to the start line as possible. Not willing to forego that much sleep but wanting to play it safe, Katie and I decided to show up just over an hour before the start (way early for us)—and we ended up parking easily in the empty “overflow” lot of the local Holiday Market, no more than a five-minute walk from the start line. Other cars continued to park near us for the next hour or so as we sat waiting. IN OTHER WORDS, PARKING IS EASY NO MATTER WHAT TIME YOU GET THERE. Cool is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town so there’s no traffic, even on race day. Many runners park directly adjacent to the fire station (start line) on St. Florian Ct, which the race organizers close to traffic an hour or so before the race, But there’s no need to park that close unless maybe you’re expecting heavy rain and want immediate access to your car after the race. And you’ll benefit much more from the two+ hours of extra sleep than from the primo parking spot.

SWAG: Not much to recommend here. Honestly, the shirt was awful—a thin, poorly fitting Greenlayer tee that went immediately into the donation pile. Luckily the finisher medal was better, small and simply designed with the race name and frog logo (apparently the medal is the same every year, the only difference being ribbon color). The swag was the only aspect of the race that wasn’t way too cool, though trail races get the benefit of the doubt since trail runners tend not to be swagophiles like the typical road runner. If only cupcakes counted as swag…

Want to know more about the WTC 50K? Check out my race report at http://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2017/04/19/way-too-cool-50k-race-report/

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
5
SWAG
3
My Media

2 members marked this review helpful. Agree?

 

Surf City Marathon & Half Marathon

Surf City Marathon & Half Marathon

BOTTOM LINE: Surf City is classic SoCal – 19+ miles of the course (10 on the Pacific Coast Highway, another 9.5 on the beach path) are run along the coast … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: Surf City is classic SoCal – 19+ miles of the course (10 on the Pacific Coast Highway, another 9.5 on the beach path) are run along the coast and within a few yards of the beach and ocean, with the remaining 7 miles run as a loop around Huntington Beach Central Park and its surrounding neighborhood. Unlike Big Sur, where you run high up on PCH overlooking the Pacific for 21 miles, at Surf City you’re at sea level pretty much the whole time (elevation gain/loss for the course is 269 ft/259 ft, with a minimum elevation of –3 ft). And while I’ve heard some runners admit to “beach fatigue” caused by the two out-and-backs that parallel the coastline, I’ll never argue with the opportunity to run within sight of the Pacific Ocean on a Hwy 1 that’s closed to traffic. It’s awesome. That said, I can understand how the half marathon might be considered the perfect distance for this race, since 10 miles of the course runs along PCH and back, without the extra out-and-back miles along the beach path that the marathoners run.

True to its theme, the course featured live bands playing surf music, which was a cool feel-good touch. And though spectator support was predictably mellow (it’s SoCal, after all), around the park in particular exuberant kid volunteers greeted runners with boisterous cries and creative cheers such as “Hey runner, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey RUNNER! {clap clap, clap clap} hey RUNNER!”. I always appreciate spectators going the (pun ahead!) extra mile to give runners a psychological boost, since they could just as easily be doing anything else—like sleeping in.

In the past couple of years, the weather for Surf City (which is always run on Super Bowl Sunday) has been sunny and overly warm, but this year’s race was absolutely perfect – cloudy and 50-something for the duration. Always a huge plus when the biggest variable of ‘em all works in your favor.

PRODUCTION: Nearly flawless. Aside from the fact that Huntington Beach is tough to get to logistically (owing to its distance from any major freeway), an oversized tent right on the beach was the ideal venue for the pre-race expo. The wave start on race morning flowed smoothly, leading to plenty of elbow room within 100 yards of the start. Aid stations (which I largely bypassed) were very well organized and fully stocked with even more goodies than advertised. The CLIF Shot Energy Zone along PCH was particularly well marked with bright signage that could be seen well in advance. Not only that, but spectators along the route were handing out their own oranges and Clif Bloks. I didn’t pay much attention to the post-race munchies since I rarely eat after a race, but the chocolate milk, free Sam Adams Beer Garden and proximity to the Pacific Ocean convinced me to stick around for a while. No need to twist my arm…

The lone exception to the flawless production was that somehow, mile 16 was 0.3 miles too long so that my Garmin – which up to that point had been amazingly in sync with the mile markers – read 16.3 miles when I hit the mile 16 marker. And since my final tally ended up at 26.5 miles, the next 10.2 miles were clearly spot-on as well. So unlike the typical marathon where my Garmin gradually falls behind the mile markers and finishes at around 26.4 miles, in this case the entire 0.3-mile discrepancy happened in one mile. No big deal to those of us who were running this as a chill training run, but I feel for anyone trying to qualify for Boston on Surf City’s flat, otherwise BQ-friendly course.

SWAG: I love the classic Surf City logo and any swag that displays it. This year’s overly clever and artistic sneaker design notwithstanding, the long sleeve tech shirt is always a keeper, and as a bonus Surf City is one of the few races around that offers gender-specific shirts (I read a stat somewhere that only 4% of races offer gender-specific shirts). The medal is also eye-catching, a shiny gold souvenir the size of a coaster that smartly showcases the traditional wooden surfboard. Definitely worth running an extra 0.3 miles for. 😉

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
4
SCENERY
5
SWAG
4
My Media

1 member marked this review helpful. Agree?

 

Louisiana Marathon

Louisiana Marathon

Whether you’re a 50 stater or just seeking a great race, I can tell you with conviction Baton Rouge is just the place. With Deep South hospitality and lagniappe to … MORE

Whether you’re a 50 stater
or just seeking a great race,
I can tell you with conviction
Baton Rouge is just the place.

With Deep South hospitality
and lagniappe to spare,
you get the sense the folks in charge
do really give a care.

Logistics are easy, the course shows off
the campus and the town,
and ‘cross the finish line awaits
the best post-race fest around.

Free photos, awesome volunteers,
aid stations laid out well—
if the devil’s in the details
Louisiana gives ‘em hell.

Sure, the swag may not excite
with simple shirt and bling.
But ask me would I run again?
No doubt—and that’s the thing.

So a final word for runners
looking for a top-notch show:
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
is the place you want to geaux!

#GeauxRunLA

For a more detailed narrative—most of it in prose—see my race report at http://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2017/02/17/louisiana-marathon-race-report/

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
3
SWAG
3
My Media

1 member marked this review helpful. Agree?

 

Toughest 10K in the USA

Toughest 10K in the USA

The first thing you’re likely to notice about this race is the name—you’ll want to pay attention to that. This is a one-of-a-kind trial-by-fire, and if you’re an endurance snob … MORE

The first thing you’re likely to notice about this race is the name—you’ll want to pay attention to that. This is a one-of-a-kind trial-by-fire, and if you’re an endurance snob who looks down on shorter distances, trust me you’ll look up to this one. Pulling into the parking lot adjacent to the race venue, my brother @CSohaskey and I immediately noted the number of vehicles sporting “26.2” stickers; clearly this was not your typical family-friendly 10K. This was a race that attracted masochists and those in search of a singular challenge. And they’d found it in quiet, suburban Newbury Park.

What makes this the Toughest 10K in the USA is of course the hills, made more challenging by the uneven, single-track dirt trails used to access them. By the time I reached mile 4, I found myself longing for a nice flat 26 miles. My brother’s Garmin recorded a total elevation gain/loss change of 2,123 ft while mine logged 1,954 ft up/1,945 ft down. Ironically, in 76 races this was the first timed 10K I’ve ever run, so it’s now officially my 10K personal best and less than 12 minutes short of my half marathon PR.

The race begins (and ends) with ~½ mile on asphalt, circling the Newbury Park Academy that doubles as the staging area before transitioning to dirt and making its first real ascent. This initial uphill is steep enough to require your second (and third) wind, and will cue the nervous voices in your head to start questioning what you’ve gotten yourself into. This is just a warm-up though, so don’t listen to them since the rest of the course will only get steeper. And keep in mind the uphills are the easy part—after all, what goes up must come down. That said, at each peak you’ll be rewarded not only with an aid station but also with amazing panoramic views in all directions. To the victors go the spoils.

Much of the course is narrow single-track, so at the same time you’re babysitting your own suspect footing, you’ll be watching out for other runners approaching in the opposite direction at varying speeds and varying levels of body control. On one steep grade I put a momentary scare into the woman ahead of me, who could hear me shuffling quickly downhill toward her and was bracing for the collision that (fortunately) never came. On another descent—a narrow single-track with slanted sides and a narrow groove down the middle that made for tenuous footing—I could hear the fellow just ahead of me respond to the steep grade in real time: “Shit, shit, shit…” before finally regaining control of his momentum. At one point, hoping to slow my own momentum I reached out to grab a thin branch which broke off in my hand as I slid by. Sorry, Mother Nature.

Despite all this, I lost my footing and ended up on my backside only twice. And I never fell forward (this is the key to success—your butt was designed to land on, your face was not). And though the Toughest 10K is a definite challenge and a race your quads won’t soon forget (my left quad and IT band were still tight 5 days after the race—5 days after a 10K!), it’s not a dangerous course. As long as you maintain focus, take your time and avoid being reckless, you’ll get up and down just fine. Unlike the Mount Marathon course in Alaska where runners routinely cross the finish line bruised and bloodied—and where one fellow disappeared mid-race, never to be heard from again—this was not a group of reckless runners. Everyone was careful and courteous, and even the two 70-year-olds in the group eventually found their way down from the hills, completing half a loop on the Newbury Park Academy dirt track before finishing on the field.

The Toughest 10K isn’t cheap—we paid $65 a month before the race—but then again for an experience this unique, the price is actually very reasonable. Certainly more so than a $190 Disney half marathon. And given that my calves, quads and IT bands have a year to forgive & forget, I can definitely see myself running again next year.

Pro tip: For greater success on uphills, power-hike with your palms resting on the tops of your quads, to help drive each leg downward like a piston. I followed this strategy at Ice Age, and it helped tremendously by lowering my center of gravity, improving my balance and providing more power on steep ascents. And on particularly steep descents, sideways is the only way to go.

PRODUCTION: Low-key and easy peasy, as befitting a race of ~100 finishers. We rolled up 30 minutes before the 7:30am start, parked next door in The Home Depot lot and quickly picked up our bib, timing chip and t-shirt. This left plenty of time to visit the indoor restrooms at the Newbury Park Academy. There’s something very special about low-key trail races, particularly when you can talk your intrepid brother into running with you. The course was well marked, so there was no concern about taking a wrong turn and, you know, accidentally bypassing one of the killer climbs. 🙂 And Alex, who was manning the finish line mic, enthusiastically announced each and every approaching finisher while encouraging others in the crowd to cheer them across. Thanks, Alex!

After taking a start line selfie with all his runners, race director Caleb encouraged us to take our time, hike the steeper hills sideways to slow our momentum, and basically treat the race as a beautiful 6-mile hike. And he and his team had an impressive post-race party awaiting us at the finish on the Newbury Academy sports field, with plenty of snacks (see photo), a few interesting sponsor tents, a raffle for cool prizes and a series of competitions that I watched while seated atop a foam roller—including a 40-yard dash (yes, you read that right), a push-up contest and a plank competition in which the 67-year-old winner held perfect planking posture for over EIGHT minutes. So much for 6-second abs.

SWAG (see photo): It’s been a while since I got a cotton race t-shirt, but this one’s a definite keeper with the wicked course profile printed on front, and in fact I’ve already worn it proudly a couple of times. The medal too is unusually eye-catching for a trail race, depicting (what else?) the hills of Newbury Park, so your quads will always be reminded of what they accomplished, even after the joyful muscle memory fades.

DIFFICULTY
5
PRODUCTION
5
SCENERY
4
SWAG
4
My Media

4 members marked this review helpful. Agree?

 

Golden Gate Half (fka US Half)

Golden Gate Half (fka US Half)

BOTTOM LINE: The race name says it all—the iconic International Orange landmark that attracts tourists from all over the world is the main attraction of this race. And it’s worth … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: The race name says it all—the iconic International Orange landmark that attracts tourists from all over the world is the main attraction of this race. And it’s worth the price of admission. Not counting relays, this is one of only four races I know of—the other three being the SF Marathon, Rock ‘n’ Roll SF Half and Across the Bay 12K—that crosses the Golden Gate Bridge on foot. And whether it’s a clear day, or a foggy day, or a windy day, or a rainy day, I’ll never turn down a chance to run the bridge, especially with the added bonus of not having to dodge pedestrians on the walkways. I’ve run this race 3x now (twice in its original iteration as the U.S. Half) and could happily run it 20x more without ever tiring of the course—from the start in Aquatic Park through Fort Mason and the Presidio, to the bridge itself, to the quick down-and-back-up turnaround on the north side of the bridge, to Fort Point for a cool underside view, to the final mile along the marina before finishing in Fort Mason. San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the world, and if you don’t like running here then you probably aren’t cut out for urban running.

Three things for first-timers to keep in mind: 1) In foggy or rainy weather, footing can be slick on the bridge’s steel access panels; 2) If you’re looking to set a personal best and this isn’t your first half marathon, you’ve come to the wrong place—this is San Francisco in all its hilly glory, and you’re more likely to enjoy the ride if you ease off the accelerator and focus on the journey rather than the destination; 3) This is always a crowded race, and for back-of-the-packers the first few miles can be tough to find elbow room. So if you’re a faster runner and want to ensure you can run at your own pace, do yourself a favor and don’t get stuck waiting for the porta-potties when the starter’s pistol fires, as I’ve done twice now. Line up close to the front of the start corral so you don’t waste valuable energy weaving around slower runners.

PRODUCTION: Smooth as silk, for the most part. Sure there weren’t enough porta-potties, but then again there rarely are at road races, and if I’m planning to run a serious race I take no chances and hit the lines early. As far as the expo, it was small and easily navigated—we showed up on Saturday afternoon (race was on Sunday) and picked up our packets lickety-split with no waiting. The course was well-marked, not that making a wrong turn is a concern when you’re following several thousand people the entire way. And there were a couple of out-and-backs including opposite sides of the bridge, where you could keep an eye out for friends coming the other way.

Despite the chilly weather, the SF Marina is an awesome place to finish a race. The highlight of the post-race party was catching up with fellow Raving Lunatics @kenspruell, @JennyMax and @emcclendon and enjoying a complimentary beer at the Sierra Nevada tent—never a bad idea after a 13.1-mile effort. And for those who brought their wallets, several opportunistic food trucks were serving coffee, donuts and other offerings. One production-related glitch: finish line volunteers handed out nice GGH-branded water bottles (which I now use regularly) but didn’t bother to make finishers aware of the huge jugs of water available near the back of the chaotic finish chute, so that several of us were left carrying empty water bottles while absentmindedly hunting for water.

SWAG: I’m torn on this one; thus the 3-shoe rating. On the one hand the medal scores high marks for doing exactly what it should do—it features the Golden Gate Bridge (see photo, and note that 5K finishers weren’t so lucky), and for that reason it’s an eye-catching conversation starter. On the other hand the shirt is disappointing—a black tech shirt with ¾-length sleeves and an attractive-enough design, but with a sloppy neckline that made it look like a woman’s blouse on me and which earned it an immediate trip to the recycle pile. It also proclaimed “FINISHER” in huge white letters on the back, which seemed a bit presumptuous given how many runners wore the shirt *during* the race. Overall I’m much more of a medal guy than a shirt guy, so I’d say I came out ahead. 🙂

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
4
SCENERY
5
SWAG
3
My Media

3 members marked this review helpful. Agree?

 

Ragnar Relay Napa Valley

Ragnar Relay Napa Valley

BOTTOM LINE: Let’s start with the positives. As a Ragnar rookie, it’s now clear to me the Ragnar experience hinges on one thing: camaraderie. Ragnar is a mobile adult slumber … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: Let’s start with the positives. As a Ragnar rookie, it’s now clear to me the Ragnar experience hinges on one thing: camaraderie. Ragnar is a mobile adult slumber party, and if you’re a social runner who leaps at the chance to spend lots of quality time with 11 friends (hopefully friends!), you’re likely to come away with positive memories that—like the official beverage of Napa Valley—get better with age. On top of that, this particular relay features plenty of amazing scenery, from the majesty of the Golden Gate Bridge to the early morning fog swaddling the Napa vineyards. Throw in picture-perfect weather like we had this year, and it’s a great way to see a gorgeous stretch of the Bay Area on foot. As a bonus, our Ragnarmobile was the envy of everyone thanks to @cperrydds, who outfitted his truck with a rollaway food/equipment storage bin, a converted sleep station for two and a mobile ice bath attached to the front of the truck (see photo).

All that said, the organizers of this event were clearly asleep at the wheel, as though they were the ones who’d been awake for 24+ hours. Our team was stopped not once but *twice* late in the event—after legs 24 and 30—for roughly 90 minutes each time after outrunning our own expectations. In fact, by the time they released us and many other teams from our holding pattern after leg 30, the start line of leg 31 boasted more runners than had the actual race start on Friday morning. Despite that speed bump, we still finished as runners-up in our division. I’ve never organized a race myself, but I’m pretty sure the one thing you don’t ask your runners to do is STOP RUNNING during the event. All because the course permits apparently weren’t secured ahead of time. Who green lights a race without securing the permits ahead of time?? This reminded me of the Wile E. Coyote cartoon where he’s frantically laying down the track ahead of the speeding train. The situation was bewildering, and again were it not for the camaraderie of some awesome teammates, the combination of frustration and sleep deprivation could easily have led to a serious meltdown in the wee hours of the morning.

So as much as we all agree we’d love to get the band back together for another relay adventure, this won’t be the one. Maybe the Golden Gate Relay in May, since I ran that nonstop back in 2010…

PRODUCTION: Ouch, see above. Not only was the production severely lacking, but I was disappointed—though not surprised—to discover that Ragnar, the big glossy corporate machine that sends me twice-weekly emails urging me to buy their gear or sign up for another event, dispatched untrained high school-age volunteers to man key exchange points. Apparently the unfortunate volunteers were there simply to sit out in the cold and record bib numbers, with no working knowledge of the event or (in the two most important cases) why we were being detained.

I also encountered a couple of confusing junctures—including one in the pitch black of leg 31 in Spring Lake Park—where directional signage was absent. If not for a fellow runner familiar with the course, I likely would have wasted valuable time (and all time is valuable when you’re running on no sleep at 6:00am) playing “choose your own adventure,” which is beyond frustrating and easily avoided by throwing down a few more signs. And I know that at least a couple of my teammates weren’t so lucky and ended up taking wrong turns of their own.

Post-race food consisted of two free mediocre made-to-order pizzas per team, though honestly the last thing you’ll want to do after running and driving for 24+ hours is hang around the finish line area. So instead, once hugs are exchanged and team photos taken, I’d recommend regrouping at the nearby Gott’s Roadside adjacent to the Oxbow Public Market in Napa for a satisfying post-race meal and debriefing.

SWAG: Nicely done on both the Reebok shirt and medals (see photos), though admittedly I’m biased since I received an extra medal for running the “Ragnar Leg”—the longest of the 36 legs—early on the second morning. Curiously, the backs of the 12 medals fit together to recreate the Ragnar logo and a motivational message of some kind, though the purpose of this design detail aside from further branding is unclear since it’s neither conspicuous nor delightful.

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
1
SCENERY
5
SWAG
4
My Media

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Brazen Goonies Half Marathon (fka Lagoon Valley Half)

Brazen Goonies Half Marathon (fka Lagoon Valley Half)

BOTTOM LINE: Enjoy trails? Want a terrific race day experience? You’ll never go wrong with Brazen. And that’s saying something since Sam, Jasmin & the team produce 26 races a … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: Enjoy trails? Want a terrific race day experience? You’ll never go wrong with Brazen. And that’s saying something since Sam, Jasmin & the team produce 26 races a year. This was my 12th Brazen race (and my first since 2012, after which I moved to SoCal) and the experience was just as awesome as I remember. I even had the good fortune to meet a lot of amazing Brazenites and RaceRaves am-badass-adors in person for the first time at Goonies, which made the morning that much more special. Definitely looking forward to seeing my new friends again soon, before another four years elapse!

Brazen has the most devoted following in the Bay Area and maybe the state, and that’s no hyperbole—136 (and counting) “streakers” including @mikebeckwith, @greeneyegirl9 and @ravyoly have run every Brazen race in a single calendar year, and some have done it more than once. You don’t command that kind of loyalty without taking pride in your product and caring deeply about your runners. The Brazen experience means family-friendly events, scenic yet challenging (!) courses, awesome swag and a post-race spread fit for a king. Even if you’re the last runner to cross the finish line a feast awaits you, so leave your craving for dry bagels at home.

Goonies is the quintessential Brazen course, run on hilly trails (mostly dirt) through a hidden gem of a regional park (Lagoon Valley) with rewarding views of the park and lagoon. This in fact is one of Brazen’s strengths—Sam & Jasmin have the Midas Touch with their ability to find relatively unknown, out-of-the-way green spaces throughout the Bay Area (even in far-away Vacaville) and spin them into trail running gold. Lagoon Valley isn’t as hilly as some of their other courses, but it’s definitely hilly enough, and your calves and quads will no doubt agree. Admittedly it wasn’t my favorite of their courses—that would be Wildcat (with its views out over the SF Bay), and Rocky Ridge (toughest half marathon in the state!)—in part because it included two identical loops. But I actually appreciated the two-loop route at Lagoon Valley since I was able to get a sense for the hills in loop one and then pace myself accordingly in loop two. And my personal highlight at Goonies was a paved mile 12 that, thanks to its downhill trajectory, allowed me to build up a head of steam and notch my first-ever sub-7:00 mile on a Brazen course. Flying recklessly down that hill with only a mile remaining was an incredible feeling.

PRODUCTION: From the runners to the photographers to the volunteers who mark the course, work the aid stations and hand out medals, everyone is part of the Brazen family. And corny as it may sound, as a runner you’ll feel like part of that family. But there’s nothing clique-y about a Brazen event—the team offers an early start for hikers, and in his pre-race announcements Sam makes sure to ask about first-timers and warn new trail runners that they should carry a course map to avoid taking a wrong turn. That said, the course at Lagoon Valley was so well marked with colored ribbons and flour arrows that even with my miserable sense of direction, I never missed a beat. Everything ran smoothly in Lagoon Valley, from parking to packet pickup (both a breeze) to the race itself. Turns out the course was roughly 0.2 miles short (my Garmin read 12.9 miles) due to the turnaround being in the wrong place, but I learned long ago as a trail runner to leave the type-A mindset at home, and +/– mileage on trails doesn’t faze me. The race itself is too much fun for that.

SWAG: With 26 events per year, you couldn’t fault the Brazen crew for mailing it in and designing a reusable template for their shirts and medals. But they don’t. On the contrary, their t-shirt and medal designs stand out in my collection, and their swag consistently gets rave reviews from their runners. I’m not a huge t-shirt guy (they even give runners the option to opt out of the tee and subtract $5 from the registration fee), but the Goonies skull-and-crossbones design is strong, and strategic parts of the medal glow in the dark (see photo). Sam even designed new age-group medallions specifically for Goonies, just as he had for their previous Tarantula race in Los Vaqueros. Just another example of the attention to detail that made Brazen the 2015 Best Trail Racing Series of the Pacific West region, according to Competitor Magazine. And unless the voting is rigged 🙂 , look for them to reclaim their title in 2016.

DIFFICULTY
4
PRODUCTION
5
SCENERY
4
SWAG
5
My Media

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Omaha Marathon

Omaha Marathon

BOTTOM LINE: Like its pleasant yet average host city, the Omaha Marathon is a pleasant yet average race. To this outsider Omaha was largely nondescript, and if you didn’t know … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: Like its pleasant yet average host city, the Omaha Marathon is a pleasant yet average race. To this outsider Omaha was largely nondescript, and if you didn’t know where you were you’d be hard-pressed at any point to identify what city you’re running through. So it’s definitely not the most memorable course you’ll run, but then again it’s a golden opportunity to tour (per the race website) “Nebraska’s most vibrant city”. And the course lies entirely within the state border, a plus for me since I was there to fill my brain with Omaha and Nebraska, like a student cramming for final exams.

(Each of the city’s two other marathons, the Heartland Marathon on Oct. 2 and the Nebraska Marathon on Oct. 16, includes significant mileage in Iowa—though why the 43rd most populous city in the country needs three marathons all within a month of each other is unclear. I sense a bit of civic competition!)

The city aside, the race itself felt like a faceless event devoid of personality and going through the motions. It felt detached from rather than integrated into the community, and it certainly didn’t seem to draw much interest from residents. On-course entertainment was lacking (unless you count a small number of spectator signs), and without aid stations we would have run in silence for most of the 26.2 miles—no high-school bands, no speakers pumping in aural adrenaline, no music of any kind. Even the music at the start line felt apologetic, its volume so low as to be nearly inaudible.

I certainly don’t mind smaller, quieter events—in fact I prefer them, and here some of my favorite races spring to mind, including Run Crazy Horse, the Mississippi Blues Marathon and the Hatfield McCoy Marathon. The difference, as their names suggest, is that these events focus on and embrace the local culture, giving runners a legitimate sense of place. Would you rather run the “Jackson Marathon” or the Mississippi Blues Marathon? The “Eastern Kentucky Marathon” or Hatfield McCoy? Not only that, but the swag for each of these races featured a “surprise & delight” nod to local culture (e.g. a harmonica from Mississippi Blues, a mason jar from Hatfield McCoy). The best race organizers understand that details matter.

The lone kernel of Nebraska culture on this morning was the runner dressed as an ear of corn who I saw shortly after the turnaround. On the bright side, the race was a solid value at $85 (plus inconvenience fees) and significantly cheaper than Omaha’s two other marathons. Though given the Nebraska Marathon’s competitive slogan of “Run local”, I’m guessing its organizers may do more to recognize and embrace local culture.

PRODUCTION: All things considered, I wasn’t surprised to learn that HITS Endurance, which produces the race, is based in New York and is “the largest equine show jumping production company in the world” (equine as in horses). The Omaha Marathon is currently the only running event on the company’s calendar, along with a handful of triathlons. Race production struck me as color-by-numbers and just good enough to get by, as though someone had watched a two-minute YouTube video or read a primer on “How to produce a marathon”.

Overall the day ran smoothly enough with no major speed bumps, and kudos to both the organizers and the Omaha police for resolving the pre-race shooting incident as quickly as possible and with minimal disruption to the event itself. At the same time, several missed opportunities throughout the weekend suggested a lack of attention to detail.

First, the expo was disappointing—the five or six tents set up in the parking lot of TD Ameritrade Park were of little interest and seemed scarcely targeted toward runners, including the vendor closest to the entrance who handed us each individually wrapped slices of bread. I could practically hear the planet groaning underfoot.

In addition to the concerns above and the color-by-numbers feel of the production, aid stations were inefficiently organized. Race organizers who pay attention to detail will ensure that water and sports drink (in this case Heed) are offered in visually distinct cups so you can tell at a glance which is which. In the heat of Omaha I had to expend energy at each aid station asking for water, since everything was served in white cups. Not only that but unlike Gatorade, Heed is clear and so indistinguishable from water, thus adding to the confusion. Though this didn’t prevent volunteers from mistakenly shouting “Gatorade!” at every aid station.

The post-race spread, though not terrible, was typical: bananas, oranges, dry bagels, an oversized open jar of peanut butter and a container of jelly with flies buzzing happily around it in the heat. No local vendors offering samples or selling food, something I always appreciate as an easy way to showcase the community to a receptive audience. Dan did manage to score us some chocolate milk from a cooler of ice.

Individually these may sound like the nitpicky ramblings of a high-maintenance runner, but while none are make-or-break details, together they’re a clear indication of how well an event production company knows its stuff—and maybe more importantly, how much it cares.

SWAG (see photo): Other than surviving the heat, the highlight of the Omaha Marathon may have been the swag, most of all the impressively sized medal that passes the “heft test” and which is now among the largest in my collection. The age group award—a colorful certificate in a curved & beveled acrylic frame—was an unexpected bonus; luckily I stuck around to claim it, since it would have cost me $10 to have it shipped. And the race shirt is a nicely designed, dark blue & green long-sleeve tech tee that will come in handy during the harsh Los Angeles winters.

For everything you ever wanted to know about the Omaha Marathon but were afraid to ask, check out my race report at http://wp.me/p2rSqE-1jL

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
3
My Report
SCENERY
3
SWAG
4
My Media

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Hatfield McCoy Marathon

Hatfield McCoy Marathon

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t sleep on Kentucky — Hatfield McCoy is a hidden gem of the marathon (and half marathon) scene. Even if you’re not a 50 Stater, I’d recommend the … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t sleep on Kentucky — Hatfield McCoy is a hidden gem of the marathon (and half marathon) scene. Even if you’re not a 50 Stater, I’d recommend the race for its low-key ambience and peaceful, bucolic course that thumbs its nose at the modern, anxiety-ridden American lifestyle. Hearing only your own breathing and footfalls on the quiet, densely wooded back roads will relax your mind and make you feel like you’ve run back in time to a simpler era. The rustic setting is surprisingly scenic & beautiful, with the least appealing part being the start in the Food City parking lot. Plus, the people are among the friendliest you’ll meet anywhere, from the organizers to every volunteer who selflessly donated their time to stand out in the heat so the rest of us could run — especially the two good-natured fellows who played the roles of Hatfield and McCoy, wearing long sleeves + long pants and agreeably standing under the sweltering sun for HOURS to greet finishers and pose for pictures. Every man, woman & child was amazing.

The ever-changing course is challenging in that it rolls quite a bit, with notable hills in miles 7 and (ouch) 24. Luckily the first 20 miles are well shaded, since heat was a definite factor this year as indicated by a winning time of 3:13:22. In an age of ever-escalating registration fees and new events that don’t merit the expense, the HMM is also a tremendous value — I paid only $80 (plus a $6.20 inconvenience fee) two days before the race.

Granted the race’s remote setting — the closest “city” is Charleston WV, 80 miles away and we stayed in Pikeville KY, 25 miles away — works against it, making it difficult to attract first-timers and the more casual runners targeted by large urban marathons. On the other hand, that remoteness is a huge part of its charm. So if you’re willing to travel a bit out of your way, and unless you’re a runner who absolutely needs screaming spectators and rowdy on-course entertainment, do yourself a favor and check out the Hatfields & McCoys.

PRODUCTION: On point, from pre-race to post-finish. Race-day packet pickup couldn’t have been easier, though as a courtesy I’d avoid parking in the Food City lot if you plan to leave your car there all morning. But at 6:30am there was plenty of parking there as well as in the nearby lots recommended by the organizers. And while “More porta-potties!” is typically the race-day rallying cry of runners everywhere, there were more than enough of those at the start as well, with a relatively small group to accommodate.

Luckily traffic was sparse on the narrow roads and so not much of a concern. The course itself was well marked for the most part — even with my subpar sense of direction I never took a wrong turn, though more signage in a couple of spots (e.g. the end of River Rd in mile 18 where the course enters the golf course) would have been helpful. Thanks to the heat I made frequent use of the aid stations, where awesome volunteers were always ready with ice water, Gatorade, and even icy sponges. Given the lack of shade after mile 20 a couple more aid stations in the last five miles wouldn’t have been unwelcome, particularly for those who didn’t have a Katie taking care of them.

Hats off to the dedicated folks manning the post-race grills in the 90°F heat, making hot dogs & hamburgers available to hungry finishers. It being 2016 and all, a veggie option would have been a nice addition to the post-race spread, though in fairness my own stomach wasn’t ready to tackle solid food anyway.

SWAG: The finisher medal is unique in being shaped like a mason jar, even if it is an odd milky gray color (maybe that’s the white lightning?). And rather than the cheaply made, unflattering race tee I’ve come to expect from smaller races, the white HMM tee with stylish mesh side panels fits beautifully. As a complement to the standard shirt-&-medal combo provided at every road race, all finishers even received a nifty mason jar adorned with the race logo — another cool hometown detail that sets the Hatfield McCoy Marathon apart.

For more details — including a first-person account of Muhammad Ali’s memorial service, held in Louisville the same weekend — check out my blog report at https://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2016/06/29/hatfield-mccoy-marathon-race-report/

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
4
SWAG
5
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Ice Age Trail 50

Ice Age Trail 50

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a runner looking to make the leap to the 50-mile distance, do yourself a favor and check out the Ice Age Trail 50. It’s the perfect … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a runner looking to make the leap to the 50-mile distance, do yourself a favor and check out the Ice Age Trail 50. It’s the perfect course for 50-mile newbies, a reasonably challenging hybrid of runnable flats and hikable hills. Well-groomed dirt and grass trails make up the bulk of the terrain, which isn’t particularly technical despite numerous rocky ascents & descents (gaiters will help keep those rocks out of your shoes). And speaking of ascents, there are a few relatively steep hills but nothing monstrous, so if you strengthen your core muscles and shore up your power-hiking skills during training, you should be fine.

Kettle Moraine State Forest is a gorgeous venue for the race, particularly in mid-May when spring has sprung and when heat & humidity are less likely to be a factor. If you’re lucky, you may even get the perfectly cool temperatures we got, and two awesome running buddies to join you. I can even recommend the Lake Lawn Resort in nearby Delavan, an easy 25-30 min car ride from the start line, if you’re looking for convenient non-camping accommodations.

The only downside to Ice Age is the two-way traffic on the out-and-backs, though this only became a problem with a handful of runners who­—for whatever reason—came barreling down the center of the trail refusing to yield the right-of-way. This could have resulted in some nasty collisions had the rest of us not been hypervigilant and quick to step aside. As with any event, though, it’s tough to police assholery.

PRODUCTION: Race-day production was top-notch. Despite being one of the largest 50-milers in the country, Ice Age reminded me why I miss low-key trail races. The course was clearly marked with yellow (50M) and/or orange (50K) flags at every turn, aid stations were well-stocked and well-spaced (the longest interval between stations was 5.1 miles, and that was at mile 9), and without exception the volunteers were nothing short of brilliant. After all, these folks were selflessly sacrificing an entire day of their lives so the rest of us could work through personal issues run an absurdly long way. I introduced myself to Race Director Jeff Mallach after the race, and he seemed genuinely surprised and appreciative that we’d made the trip from California just to run his race.

The only potential issue—and one I never encountered personally—was a shortage of medical personnel & supplies on the course, e.g. when one of our crew drove a fellow who’d sustained a bloody gash beside his eye back to the start/finish area for medical attention.

SWAG: How to argue with my first-ever ultra buckle? The Ice Age buckle with its woolly mammoth logo is one good-looking piece of hardware. Credit to RD Jeff Mallach for not subscribing to the “Bigger is better” mentality—as with other things, garishly large medals smack of a race trying to make up for something. And though the long-sleeve tech tee may be a bit bright, its lime green color will go a long way toward making me visible to oncoming traffic on my training runs.

For a complete race-day narrative, check out my race report at https://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2016/05/25/ice-age-trail-50-race-report/

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
4
SWAG
4
My Media

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Big Sur International Marathon

Big Sur International Marathon

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a hardcore runner and/or California native planning to run the Boston Marathon, then the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge should be a no-brainer. Not only is … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a hardcore runner and/or California native planning to run the Boston Marathon, then the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge should be a no-brainer. Not only is it a unique bicoastal challenge, but you’ll have the opportunity to run one of California’s most highly recommended (and this year, one of its most blustery) marathons as part of an exclusive group. The only drawback is the steep price of admission—at $300 this is likely the most expensive marathon you’ll run. But if Big Sur is on your bucket list anyway, why not kill two birds with one stone and ride that post-Boston endorphin high for as long as possible?

PRODUCTION: Flawless, just as it was in 2014. School buses transport all runners from Carmel or Monterey (we stayed at the uber-convenient Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay) out to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park for the start of the race, leaving plenty of time to eat, stretch, meditate, take selfies, visit the porta-potties and generally do whatever you need to do to prepare yourself for the 26.2 miles of hilly Pacific Coast Highway that await. The pre-race pasta dinner is always a relaxed opportunity to convene with friends beforehand, and the post-race spread for B2B finishers is among the best I’ve seen at any race. The BSIM organizers could easily skate by on the course’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean and jaw-dropping vistas—instead, their tireless attention to detail is the cherry on top of a very satisfying sundae (Sunday) long run.

SWAG: The swag for Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge finishers is among the best you’ll find anywhere. In addition to the standard clay finisher medallion (which itself is one of the best in racing) and tech tee, B2B’ers receive a second finisher medallion, long-sleeve tech tee inscribed with the B2B logo and nicely crafted, embroidered ASICS finisher jacket.

For more details & purty pitchers of the Big Sur experience, check out my race report at https://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2016/12/31/big-sur-international-marathon-2016-race-report/

DIFFICULTY
4
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
5
SWAG
5
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Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon

BOTTOM LINE: Boston is a pretty cool race. And Tyrannosaurus rex was a pretty cool lizard. Boston is hands-down (and it’s not close) the coolest race in the country, if … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: Boston is a pretty cool race. And Tyrannosaurus rex was a pretty cool lizard. Boston is hands-down (and it’s not close) the coolest race in the country, if not the world. Chicago has a similar feel in terms of race magnitude, community support/civic pride and an historic sports venue in Wrigley Field, but Boston is without rival. And unfortunately, the Cubs’ season typically ends well before race day in early October (oh no he di’int!).

So if you’re fast enough to run Boston, do it — early & often. If you’re on the cusp of being fast enough to qualify, train your butt off now before they tighten the qualifying standards again. And if you’re simply counting on attrition to qualify when you’re 80, hit up some family/friends/unguarded piggy banks and raise the $5,000 minimum needed to enter as a charity runner. No matter how you get to Boston (short of cheating the system and calling attention to yourself on Facebook), you won’t regret the effort.

Not surprisingly, Race Director Dave McGillivray said it best when asked what he does for a living: “I help raise the level of self-esteem and self-confidence of tens of thousands of people across America every year.” Now THERE’S an elevator pitch.

PRODUCTION: Spot-on flawless, from start to finish. Every race of any size could learn a lot simply by standing on the sidelines observing Boston Marathon weekend. McGillivray and his team are master choreographers, and it’s almost laughable (& unfair) to compare any other marathon to Boston. The genius of the production is that it’s airtight and yet never in your face to spoil the experience. And unlike Berlin, the porta-potties in Boston had toilet paper! The only potential downside to race weekend was the overcrowded expo… but even that can be avoided by waiting until Sunday afternoon to attend. Four thumbs up (I’m borrowing my wife’s) on a job masterfully done.

SWAG: No finisher’s medal outside the Olympics is more coveted or more instantly recognizable than the unicorn earned by Boston Marathon finishers. I was awestruck as the friendly B.A.A. volunteer hung the blue-&-gold ribbon around my neck, and that was when the reality of my achievement really hit home.

In addition, the official Adidas long-sleeve race shirt isn’t your typical wear-once-and-donate race tee, but like the medal itself a classic blue & gold that fits well and which I can imagine wearing until the sleeves fall off. Everything about this marathon screams “attention to detail”, even if Adidas has (for better or worse) boldly steered away from the classic color scheme and gotten a bit sassier with the colors of its celebration jackets in recent years. I definitely didn’t envy the women their teal-&-pink jacket this year (look it up if you don’t believe me).

For a more detailed narrative plus a few tips & tricks for Boston Marathon weekend, check out my blog post at http://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2016/04/27/boston-marathon-race-report/

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
3
SWAG
5
My Media

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Peace Love Run Half Marathon – San Diego

Peace Love Run Half Marathon – San Diego

BOTTOM LINE & PRODUCTION: The Peace Love Run Half is a bit of a Jekyll & Hyde race. On the one hand, Mission Bay Park is a beautiful area and … MORE

BOTTOM LINE & PRODUCTION: The Peace Love Run Half is a bit of a Jekyll & Hyde race. On the one hand, Mission Bay Park is a beautiful area and scenic venue for a road race, since a) it’s always sunny in San Diego and b) the course follows paved footpaths removed from automobile traffic. From that perspective, I’d definitely recommend PLR if you’re looking for a leisurely morning run, either alone or with friends.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to race competitively as I was (using it as my tune-up race for the Boston Marathon), then Caveat Emptor — this was a bit of a clusterf#@*, especially once the 10K runners merged with the half marathoners in mile 4. At that point I lost track of the faster half marathoners ahead of me, and ended up expending a lot of energy trying to weave around a) slower runners in the left lane, b) runners wearing earbuds in the left lane so they couldn’t hear me yell “On your left!” or c) a mash-up of the two: slower runners wearing earbuds in the left lane who were completely oblivious to everything going on around them. Unfortunately there were plenty of these runners, as well as groups running together side-by-side-by-side spanning the path like a human wall, so that I actually had to slow to a walk long enough to “Scooz me” my way past them. Certainly this wasn’t intentional on their part; they just weren’t paying attention to the other runners around them.

The course required that half marathoners run two loops around Fiesta Island Park, with confusing signage at the end of each loop directing 10K runners in one direction and half marathoners in another. At the end of the second loop, half marathoners (I know this now) were supposed to ignore the signage and follow the 10K arrows. Confused yet? Then you can imagine how my brain — in its fatigued state, with all mental energy focused on weaving around runners and maintaining pace as the morning heated up — ended up missing a turnoff. The result: I ended up running an extra loop (i.e. 2 miles), meaning that by the time I crossed the finish line, my half marathon ended up being a 25K. No big deal — no harm no foul, since it was actually good mental & physical training, and luckily I wasn’t chasing a personal best. But I did sign up for a half marathon, and I would have won my age group by roughly 12 minutes on a 13.1-mile course. Haphazardly labeled courses are something I’ve come to expect in trail races, not road races… and for a half marathon registration fee of $80, I naturally expect the course to be clearly labeled at all times with unambiguous signage in place if there’s any possibility of confusion. Other half marathoners ahead of me after my bonus third loop were clearly confused by the “10K in one direction/half marathon in the other” signage, despite the valiant (and much-appreciated) efforts of one poor volunteer who was standing at the juncture trying to direct the oncoming flood of runners in the right direction. All in all a chaotic scene, like, “Duuude, where’s my turnoff?”

Another sub-optimal course consideration: the last several miles took us through a section of the park where the path was shared with the public, a situation which always makes for a near-collision or two when someone out for a morning stroll with poochie fails to anticipate or acknowledge oncoming runners.

So my two main recommendations for making Peace Love Run the excellent race it deserves to be: 1) much-improved course markers and signage; 2) pre-race emails/announcements emphasizing to slower runners and earbud wearers that they’re not the only runners on the course, and they need to stay to the right.

That said, the finish line festival was groovy, with plenty of music and a cool backdrop for taking photos (though it should have been facing toward the sun rather than away from it, for less shady results). And the post-race bananas were great!

SWAG: Aside from the chance to run with a good friend who recently moved from Boston to San Diego (and who won his age group), the swag was the highlight of the morning. The race shirt is a shiny white tech tee with the colorful Peace Love Run design on front, while the medal is an equally colorful VW bug decked out with flowers & surfboards (see photos). Very cool and, despite my on-course experience, definitely a medal that makes me smile when I look at it.

DIFFICULTY
1
PRODUCTION
3
SCENERY
3
SWAG
4
My Media

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Los Angeles Marathon (LA Marathon)

Los Angeles Marathon (LA Marathon)

BOTTOM LINE: I love LA, and Los Angeles should be high on any serial marathoner’s list. California has something for every road runner – the breathtaking beauty of the California … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: I love LA, and Los Angeles should be high on any serial marathoner’s list. California has something for every road runner – the breathtaking beauty of the California coastline in Big Sur, the classic SoCal beach vibe of Surf City, the enchanting allure of San Francisco. LA in turn shines with its unique mix of big-city energy, iconic attractions and laid-back SoCal ambience. If preconceived notions of smog and plastic people are all you know of LA, then you don’t know LA.

Aside from San Francisco, Los Angeles is start-to-finish the most interesting road marathon course I’ve run. Don’t let the net downhill profile (789 ft up, 1,192 ft down) fool you though – most of that downhill is at the very beginning and very end. Nor is the rest of the course particularly flat, so be prepared for several uphills, particularly in the first half.

Another positive note from this year’s race: the number of spectators seemed much greater than I recall from 2012. So if spectator support is important to you, don’t let the LAM’s reputation as a spectator-sparse event dissuade you from running. Sure it’s no Boston, Chicago or New York, but then again not every race can be a World Marathon Major.

LA isn’t a cheap race (I paid $160 on opening day of registration), but it’s reasonable relative to other big-city marathons, and you definitely get what you pay for. And weather-wise, the year-round warmth that draws so many visitors to SoCal is a double-edged sword for runners, since it means temperatures on race day tend toward hot. Just a word of “warming” for those hoping to chase a personal best at LA.

PRODUCTION: Aside from the usual expo chaos in downtown LA (with suggestions for its improvement noted in my blog post), the entire weekend – from the Olympic Trials to the marathon itself – was a seamless production. As staging areas go Dodger Stadium is among the best, and parking there is relatively easy. Post-race snacks were abundant, and any post-race festival with a free beer garden (+ short lines!) is a sure winner.

That said, I was admittedly disappointed by several aspects of the production & marketing:

1) that on a course with so many iconic landmarks, the organizers didn’t do a better job of calling attention to those landmarks during the race;

2) that pre-race emails lacked personality and were used primarily for sponsor messaging, rather than taking the opportunity to highlight the Stadium-to-the-Sea course

3) that the organizers haven’t done more to #UniteLA, to embrace the community and rally the locals around their event – the truth is that the LAM simply doesn’t resonate with many Angelenos.

4) that the organizers don’t seem to treat their race with the respect that it deserves. Case in point: rather than pre-race communications focused on the course and getting me excited for the marathon, one dedicated email let me know that by running both the LAM and another SoCal relay race, I’d earn a kitschy-looking double medal in the shape of the state of California. How this odd partnership stands to benefit the LAM or its brand is unclear.

Plus, no other heavyweight race would move its date up a month for no good reason, much less for an event like the Olympic Marathon Qualifying Trials which few recreational runners even notice. In 2012 when Houston hosted the Trials, the Houston Marathon didn’t budge from its traditional mid-January weekend slot. By moving this year’s race so it fell a week after the nearby Surf City Marathon (which is always run on Super Bowl Sunday), the LAM organizers cannibalized their own audience, including runners who usually run Surf City as a warmup for LA. And that’s not just my opinion – the race failed to sell out this year, and with just 20,627 finishers, this was the first year since its inception in 2010 that the Stadium-to-the-Sea course boasted fewer than 21,000 finishers. That number is down 6% from just one year ago.

So let’s hope the organizers stop treating their marathon like a small-town race and start marketing it like the world-class event it is – you’re Los Angeles, not Omaha!

All that said, these are behind-the-scenes details that don’t affect the actual runner experience, and overall race production was impressive by any standard – so much so that I happily used the discount from my virtual event bag to buy a pair of Skechers LAM model running shoes after the race. Turns out Skechers makes a comfy running shoe!

SWAG: Keeping with the Valentine’s Day theme, both the short-sleeve tech tee and finisher’s medal are a nice shade of red. The shirt lists course highlights on the front, though in small dark font that sort of defeats the purpose. The medal, though, is the real keeper ­– it’s a shiny round keepsake with the year & downtown LA skyline emblazoned on one side, along with the race logo & iconic LA scenery on the other. It’s among the most substantial medals in my collection, with a heft similar to Chicago or New York.

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
4
SWAG
4
My Media

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Tucson Marathon

Tucson Marathon

BOTTOM LINE: I ran thru the desert on a course all the same... If you’re a focused downhill runner seeking that elusive Boston Qualifier, then dry desert air and barren … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: I ran thru the desert on a course all the same…

If you’re a focused downhill runner seeking that elusive Boston Qualifier, then dry desert air and barren scenery aside, Tucson may be your ideal marathon. But if you’re like me and much more comfortable going up (or staying flat) than coming down, you may want to think twice before committing to this race. And if you’re looking for a late-season BQ-friendly course that’s significantly easier on the quads, I’d recommend the California International Marathon which happens to fall on the same weekend as Tucson.

Beware too the artificially smooth course elevation profile on the race website, which omits many of the smaller rolling hills that will drain the life incrementally from your legs.

On the other hand, mile 23 hill aside, Tucson is much more intriguing as a speedy half marathon, where quads be damned you can throw caution to the wind and use the first 9+ miles of downhill to your PR’ing advantage. For those considering the 13.1 distance, I’d suggest you check out @dansolera‘s excellent post on his own Tucson Half experience here: http://dans-marathon.com/2010/12/18/state-eight-arizona-damascus-bakeries-tucson-half-marathon-2/

And if you’re looking for race weekend lodging, look no further than the first-class host hotel. The Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort offers reasonable rates and quiet, comfortable rooms, with the added convenience that the pre-race expo is held in one of the hotel conference rooms.

PRODUCTION: Race Director Pam Reed ensured that everything about marathon weekend operated like a well-oiled machine. Speaking of which, any event that uses buses to transport runners to the start – and does so with nary a glitch – earns extra points on my scorecard. This is no Rock ‘n’ Roll event, and that’s a good thing – the course lacked spectators and entertainment for the most part, while oncoming traffic provided the only consistent white noise along with the occasional waft of exhaust fumes. The expo was quick to navigate and had a small-town feel, including a wild-haired Doc Brown-looking fellow peddling “Magic Stuff” ointment at the corner booth. And the post-race spread, which included local sponsor Damascus Bakeries’ flatbread roll-ups, seemed sufficient to satisfy any but the most epicurean finisher’s palate.

SWAG: The official 2015 Tucson race shirt is an attractive (albeit bright) royal blue short-sleeve tech tee, while the finisher’s medal is a small and cartoonishly rendered red cactus that, if I were to learn had been designed by the local 3rd grade class, I’d think was really cool. Instead, it strikes me as more afterthought than thoughtfully considered keepsake.

For more downhill desert details, check out my blog report at: http://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2016/02/04/tucson-marathon-race-report/

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
3
SWAG
3
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USA Half Marathon Invitational (CANCELED for 2016)

USA Half Marathon Invitational (CANCELED for 2016)

Like the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon I ran back in May, the USA Half is a race by runners, for runners. If your preference is for balloons, costumes and fanfare, … MORE

Like the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon I ran back in May, the USA Half is a race by runners, for runners. If your preference is for balloons, costumes and fanfare, you’ll want to stick with the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Half in June. But if you’re a half marathoner who simply loves to run or who’s looking for a new type of challenge to motivate your training, then do yourself a favor and check out the USA Half. Its “qualifiers only” status and San Diego venue also make it a great option for 50 Staters looking for a distinctive California race.

The course is solidly urban and isn’t necessarily PR-friendly, with the first half falling somewhere between “rolling” and “hilly”. But the second half makes up for the sins of the first, with a Kansas-flat profile and a final three miles that border the sun-drenched harbor and marina. At $95.00 + processing fees the race isn’t cheap, but it’s a solid value – in both production and swag, you get what you pay for (see below).

The overarching patriotism of the event – from the name to the logo to the U.S. flags flanking both the start and finish lines – was a curious choice that wasn’t fully explored. I assume the star-spangled theme was in homage to the host city, which boasts a proud military (and specifically naval) history. In fact, several retired battleships – chief among them the USS Midway – now call the Port of San Diego their permanent home.

Given its overt patriotism and proximity to Veterans Day, it seems appropriate that next year’s race include a tribute to current military personnel, veterans and fallen heroes. And why not partner with a charitable organization that supports veterans? Because honestly, given that nearly $8 of every registration fee already goes to the hot mess that is Active.com, I certainly wouldn’t protest if a portion of my registration went to a worthy cause like veterans programs. This would also help engage the community and increase civic support for the race.

Overall, count me in for next year!

PRODUCTION: As expected given the parties in charge (including the Race Director of the Boston Marathon), event production was spot-on and a high point of the race. The pre-race expo (what we saw of it, arriving as we did an hour before it ended thanks to SoCal traffic) was small and easily navigated. Race day itself went off without a hitch, from the firing of the starter’s pistol at 6:00am sharp to the immediate and efficient disassembly of the finish line at 8:30am. The course was impeccably marked, to the point that my Garmin chimed the mile just as I hit the timing mat at mile 10. If GPS units can dream, then mine at that moment dreamed of being the official timer.

Aid stations (none of which I used, as usual) looked to be fully stocked, with vigilant volunteers calling out “Gatorade!” or “water!” as runners approached. As seems to be the case wherever I run, volunteers were friendly, encouraging and eager to help. Post-race snacks were plentiful, though finish-line festivities were minimal given the event’s constricted time limit of two-and-a-half hours (mandated by the city, I assume). And race director Ken Nwadike Jr made great use of his omnipresent camera, providing free race photos – always a much-appreciated bonus – courtesy of his own Runner Buzz Media.

SWAG: The race swag is a definite selling point, and includes a colorfully patriotic “USA” medal emblazoned with a bald eagle, as well as a black-with-white-zipper USA Half Marathon finishers jacket (though the logo on front could stand to be a bit brighter and more readable). Curiously, the jacket zipper is designed for left-handers. In any case, the jacket is a significant and much-appreciated upgrade from the standard race tech tee. And the medal will definitely stand out from its less flamboyant brethren.

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
3
SWAG
5
My Media

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Mountains 2 Beach Marathon & Half Marathon

Mountains 2 Beach Marathon & Half Marathon

Mountains 2 Beach is an all-around awesome race, and one of the gems of the California marathoning scene in only its 5th year. Based on the laughter and smiles at … MORE

Mountains 2 Beach is an all-around awesome race, and one of the gems of the California marathoning scene in only its 5th year. Based on the laughter and smiles at the post-race festival, Boston hopefuls and non-hopefuls alike enjoy this event. With its fast and spectator-friendly course, first-rate production and laser-like focus on helping its runners qualify for Boston, M2B very much strikes me as the California International Marathon (in Sacramento) with warmer temperatures and better scenery.

The race perfectly complements its low-key venue. The outdoor expo at Ventura High School was easy and quick to navigate, though late arrivals on Saturday should expect a bit of a wait to collect their number. Apparently there was a pre-race pasta dinner available for $10 at Ventura High, though given my run-in with food poisoning at the 2014 First Light Marathon in Alabama, I figured the night before a PR & BQ attempt would be a bad time to poke the bear.

Whereas many races give lip service to their runners while bending over backwards for their sponsors, Mountains 2 Beach in every way feels like a race organized by runners, for runners. Admittedly I’m pleased I could support the title sponsor (Berkeley company Clif Bar) with my choice of Clif Shot Bloks for my race-day nutrition.

And reinforcing the “by runners, for runners” vibe of the weekend, the decision to have the pacers run at two minutes under their official Boston Qualifying time (e.g. a 3:23 pacer for runners with a 3:25 qualifying time) was a genius tip o’ the cap to the realities of BQ’ing in 2015.

In case you can’t tell, I’d highly recommend this race… unless your own choice of races hinges on a strong social media presence. Then you’re out of luck. #justrun

PRODUCTION: I loved the “show up, run fast” mindset at Mountains 2 Beach. If you favor low-frills yet extremely well-produced events that finish alongside the Pacific Ocean, this is your kind of race. If, on the other hand, you prefer screaming spectators and raucous on-course entertainment, you’re likely to be Ojai-ly disappointed.

Despite the fact that I tend to ignore aid stations and only grabbed two quick sips of water at M2B, there seemed to be plenty of aid stations serving both water and Fluid, the electrolyte drink of choice. The name “Fluid” made me smile, sounding as it does like the ambivalent beverage equivalent of Soylent Green (though I doubt Fluid is people).

Luckily my innards behaved, since bathrooms along the course were few and far between. If there were porta-potties I didn’t notice them, and the only facilities I remember were the public units in Foster Park near mile 16.

The cozy post-race festival in Promenade Park included more sponsor tents than the pre-race expo plus a beer garden, Boston Qualifiers gong, massage tent, medical tent and stage featuring a live band, all conveniently encircling an open grassy area where runners basked in the SoCal sun and their post-race glow. All in all, a very nice arrangement.

SWAG: The race tee is a simple gray Greenlayer technical tee that, like other Greenlayer apparel I own, doesn’t fit particularly well. The finisher’s medal, though, makes up for its less swaggy cousin with its attractive part-metal, part-stained glass design (see photos). And I’d swear I can hear the ocean when I hold it up to my ear.

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
4
SWAG
3
My Media

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Sunset Strip Half Marathon

Sunset Strip Half Marathon

BOTTOM LINE: The inaugural Sunset Strip Half was a terrific opening act that’s only going to get better as it matures (unlike some of the musical acts who made their … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: The inaugural Sunset Strip Half was a terrific opening act that’s only going to get better as it matures (unlike some of the musical acts who made their name here). The course provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity for runners to retrace L.A.’s musical roots while collecting a finisher’s medal and t-shirt at the end of their tour.

Overall, there’s a lot to recommend this race:

1) The COURSE itself starts at the Pacific Design Center in the West Hollywood Design District and immediately heads south on a 2.5-mile loop back to the start, before leading runners on a challenging climb of ~1.5 miles up San Vicente Blvd to Sunset Blvd. Out-and-back stretches along Sunset Blvd and Santa Monica Blvd follow, stretches that to the uninitiated may feel like quintessential L.A. with their nondescript storefronts and seemingly endless strip malls, but which are in fact home to some of the city’s most historic nightclubs – venues such as the Whisky A Go Go, Troubadour, Viper Room, Roxy Theatre & House of Blues, where bands like Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Van Halen, Mötley Crüe & Guns N’ Roses all plied their trade as fledgling musicians.

How often do you have the chance to run down the middle of the city’s celebrated Sunset Strip, without having to dodge traffic or evade police officers? It’s an awesome feeling that I basked in, despite the fact that the “out” portion of each stretch does lead directly into the rising SoCal sun. Sunset Blvd in particular has a rolling quality to it that keeps the legs interested, without the steepness of San Vicente. And with the final mile along Santa Monica Blvd being a nice downhill to the finish line in West Hollywood Park, I was able to clock my fastest mile of the day.

2) The field was relatively small (1739 half marathoners, 577 5K’ers) and slow – I finished 28th overall and 4/180 in my age group. I only note this because I was surprised to find myself running the final two miles by myself, with the next closest runner ¼ mile ahead and the closest pursuer ¼ behind. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced that much elbow room in a road race before, and it really added to my feeling of complete freedom while running along Sunset & Santa Monica. Understandably crowd density increased where the half marathon & 5K courses merged on Sunset Blvd, but even then I was able to negotiate the more leisurely 5K runners with minimal effort.

3) Energized positivity infused the start/finish area – the vibe was laid-back and festive, with enthusiastic runners who were excited to be there, and volunteers who were (as race volunteers usually are) helpful & friendly.

4) Race-day packet pickup in WeHo Park was smooth & easy, as was parking near the start line in the WeHo Library parking structure. Be aware that access to the Pacific Design Center (our original target) was blocked earlier than the published 6:15am cutoff time, so we shared a brief moment of panic while circumnavigating the road closures. Luckily the WeHo Library parking structure was still accessible, cheaper than the PDC and just as convenient.

5) The race is a great value – see “PRODUCTION & SWAG” below.

With all these positives in mind, this was nonetheless the race’s inaugural campaign, and several steps can be taken to make next year’s iteration even better:

1) Most notably, the music did not live up to the promise of the race’s name. Granted I was running closer to the front, but I saw only one band along the course around mile 6, and they were still setting up when I passed. Nor did the pre- & post-race music impress – in fact my only memory of the pre-race music was “Happy”, nowadays a race staple which I’d hoped to avoid on the Sunset Strip.

My recommendation here would be to forego all live bands along the course in favor of giant on-course speakers blasting the music that made the Strip famous. I’m going to presumptuously speak for all runners in saying we’re fueled & motivated by the classics we know played by the bands we know, rather than by live bands reworking those classics. On the other hand, live bands feel completely appropriate for the post-race party.

2) The 5K turnaround on Sunset Blvd made for some awkward & potentially dangerous moments, as faster half marathoners with a full head of steam had to swerve or slow down to avoid slower 5K runners turning around right in front of them. Separate lanes for the half marathon & 5K runners at this juncture would avoid these near-collisions.

3) According to Katie’s Garmin which clocked in at 3.35 miles, the 5K course was long.

4) Every race organizer has heard this race-day mantra at one time or another: more porta-potties, please. When your announcer is suggesting to runners that “If it’s not an emergency, feel free to wait and use the porta-potties on the course”, you know you should’ve ordered more. Luckily we got in line early, but there were plenty of runners still in the queue when the starting airhorn sounded.

PRODUCTION & SWAG: The race is an excellent value: I paid $55 for the half marathon, while Katie paid $30 for the 5K. In both cases this included a colorful long-sleeve tech tee and a cool medal (the medal for the half marathon is a definite keeper, a glitzy purple-and-gold Flying V guitar with the Sunset Strip logo emblazoned on the headstock – see photos). And post-race snacks (including fruit) were available in the finish chute.

Worth mentioning here is the contrast between the Sunset Strip Half and the more established Hollywood Half, held one week earlier: the Sunset Strip costs half as much and starts 90 min later (at 7:00am). These criteria alone made the choice of races a no-brainer for us, and we weren’t disappointed in our decision. And unless we find ourselves otherwise engaged next year (Boston, maybe?), we plan to run again in 2016.

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
4
SCENERY
3
SWAG
4
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Carlsbad 5000

Carlsbad 5000

BOTTOM LINE: The Competitor Group bills the Carlsbad 5000 as its "Party by the Sea". It's an apt description – Carlsbad isn’t a 5K race so much as it is … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: The Competitor Group bills the Carlsbad 5000 as its “Party by the Sea”. It’s an apt description – Carlsbad isn’t a 5K race so much as it is an entire morning of 5K races. But even more than the races themselves, it’s a celebration of running. What better venue for a high-stakes race than a low-key coastal town like Carlsbad?

After running it, I now understand why the folks at the Competitor Group have branded this their signature event. Maybe the race gets obscured by the other 2,000+ races held in California every year – but the truth is, Carlsbad is a not-so-hidden gem.

The course is surprisingly hilly; according to my Garmin, the total elevation gain and loss over 3.1 miles exceeded both the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon I ran in November, and the Disney World Marathon I ran in January. Total elevation gain of the course (413ft) slightly exceeds elevation loss (387ft), and while the uphills are noticeable, I most appreciated the fact that the home stretch on Carlsbad Village Dr from the final turn to the finish line was all downhill. A great way to end a fast race.

Granted I’m used to paying marathon and half marathon fees, but the Carlsbad 5000 is very affordable – registration ten days before the race cost $40 (plus a $5.99 processing fee), and I was able to find a discount code online that saved me an additional $10. The fact that I was able to sign up for this race so cheaply less than two weeks out still surprises me.

My only – “complaint” may be too strong a word – objection would be that moving back the start line on Grand Avenue this year added ~88 yards (or in my case ~19 seconds) to the commoner’s course, or “Peoples Route” as it’s referred to on the race website. For a marathon 88 yards is negligible, easily falling within the margin of error for those not running the tangents. But for a 5K race 88 yards is over 1.5% of the distance, so it’s critical to get that measurement right. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but something for the organizers to keep in mind next year. Although the name rolls off the tongue, I doubt they want to rebrand their signature event the “Carlsbad 5080” (“Fifty-Eighty”).

PRODUCTION: It’s tough to beat a race that’s run only a few yards from the ocean. Or at least that’s what the course map showed – my laser (read: pained) focus during the race precluded me from appreciating my surroundings in the moment.

I’m not sure how runners in the later races fared, but running in the first event of the morning meant parking near the start line was a (ocean) breeze. I made a porta-potty stop, ran my warmup mile + striders, picked up my number directly adjacent to the start line (easy race-day bib pickup, how awesome is that?), and attached my timing chip to my shoe in time for the national anthem… all within 30 minutes. Thanks Competitor, for a seamless pre-race experience.

My only critique of the production would be, as noted above, that the course was 0.05 miles too long, a buzz kill for those of us chasing PRs and/or a well-defined finish time like 20:00.

On the other hand, the chance to meet and take photos with the elite runners more than made up for the added distance. For a race with significant prize money at stake, the organizers do a fantastic job of maintaining a low-key vibe and allowing spectators post-race access to the elites. Where else can an age-group runner stroll up to and shake hands with world-class athletes like Bernard Lagat and Deena Kastor? I felt like a kid on Christmas day, except in this case Santa Claus was real.

That said, there’s a lot to recommend here even for those runners who aren’t stargazers. It’s a premier race in a relaxed oceanside venue (the “relaxed” part comes once you cross the finish line), a solid opportunity to test your mettle and your fitness level. Plus it’s a great value – the entry fee ranges from $20 (early) to $40 (late). And if you really like running the course, you can sign up for the “All Day 20K” and run it four times to earn special 20K swag.

Speaking of swag, I was pleasantly surprised to receive not only a blue Leslie Jordan short-sleeve tech tee (always high quality) but a cool medal as well featuring women’s world record holder Meseret Defar. Not to mention some decent snacks in the finish chute.

The new elite course, with its tighter loops and two added hairpin turns, seems designed more for the spectators than the runners. But whereas the effect of the new course on finish times remains to be seen, the organizers may want to reconsider the sequence and timing of the events if they hope to see Sammy Kipketer’s course record of 13:00 challenged anytime soon. I didn’t envy the elites having to run in the heat of the day.

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
4
SWAG
4
My Media

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Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a marathoner, then the Walt Disney World Marathon is a no-brainer. And if you don’t believe me, feel free to read a few of the gazillion … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a marathoner, then the Walt Disney World Marathon is a no-brainer. And if you don’t believe me, feel free to read a few of the gazillion blogs dedicated to the runDisney experience. Nobody stages a more entertaining race than Disney, because nobody CAN stage a more entertaining race than Disney (Th-th-th-that’s a challenge, Warner Bros). Whereas other races rely on “loud and abrasive” for their on-course entertainment, Disney relies on its time-honored characters and theme parks. With a couple of well-timed exceptions (e.g. Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” blasting at mile 16), the WDW Marathon speaks softly and carries a big stick. And if you’ve only ever run a Disney race in California, don’t think this is more of the same – Florida is a completely different experience. It’s one of the very few (only?) instances where I’m willing to concede that Florida trumps California. That and alligator density.

I’ve heard the complaint that Disney races are too expensive – and if price is your sole criteria for judging a race, then maybe you’d be right. But the truth is, the next runner I hear second-guess their decision to run the WDW Marathon will be the first. Disregarding Active.com’s processing fee, my marathon registration was $170 (compared to $255 for the NYC Marathon and $195 for the Avengers Half), which by the time I crossed the finish line on Sunday felt like a bargain. And the fact that their most expensive option – the Dopey Challenge – is also their most popular says all you need to know about the supply & demand at work here. So if your primary concern is the $170 registration fee, I might suggest you focus less on price and more on value.

PRODUCTION: No one produces a race better than runDisney, and they have a whopping 68-page Official Event Guide to prove it. WDW is a race for the runners, as evidenced in every facet of the race organization with the possible exception of the 5:30am start time. While Disney may claim the early start time helps to beat the Florida (and California) heat, it also conveniently helps to clear as many runners out of the parks as possible before the paying customers rise and shine.

There’s a fine line between “flawless organization” and “military precision”… and I might argue that at times Disney’s organization is so good as to make the process feel devoid of spontaneity. Who knows, maybe this is the key to producing a race of this magnitude… I’m just not sure they need quite so many crew members and volunteers directing people every step of the way, from expo to race day. Save the stanchions for Space Mountain, Disney.

That said, my race weekend went off without a hitch. And every volunteer I met was sincerely wonderful, wonderfully sincere and clearly drinking happy juice by the tankard. I don’t plan to run WDW again anytime soon – after two of their races in two months I’m pretty Disney-ed out, and 41 other states await before a return trip to the Magic Kingdom. Then again, when it comes to Disney I’ll never say never, even if does bring me back to Florida…

SWAG: For us “marathon only” slackers, the t-shirt was a nice black Champion tech tee. And the ribbon on the finisher’s medal is fastened to itself by velcro, making it easy to separate ribbon from medal if that’s your preference – one final example of Disney’s unrivaled attention to detail.

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
5
SWAG
4
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California International Marathon (CIM)

California International Marathon (CIM)

BOTTOM LINE: Six letters to sum up this review: run CIM. The organizers bill their marathon as the "fastest, friendliest, most spectacular course in the West!", and they may well … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: Six letters to sum up this review: run CIM. The organizers bill their marathon as the “fastest, friendliest, most spectacular course in the West!”, and they may well be 2/3 right. Suburban monotony notwithstanding, the net downhill course is PR-friendly and offers just enough variety (i.e. hillage) in the first half to keep the legs guessing. From its readily navigated expo to its easy start line access to its cowbell-toting spectators, CIM is a first-class marathon that doesn’t sacrifice its relaxed, small-town vibe. The field size (5,805 finishers this year) is very reasonable, not to mention fast – my 3:24:15 placed me in 997th place. Spectators and musical entertainment along the course maintain the low-key feel of the race, being supportive but not oppressively so. And weather conditions have been ideal both years I’ve run, although December typically is the rainy season in Northern California.

For runners looking for a year-end marathon in the first week of December, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either CIM (if you’re partial to roads) or The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship in SF (if you’re partial to trails). Both are terrific, well-produced races.

PRODUCTION: Don’t be fooled by its lack of bells (except cowbells) & whistles – race production for CIM is among the best you’ll find anywhere. And though there’s never a perfect race, clearly the Sacramento Running Association (SRA) puts a lot of hard work into chasing that goal.

Take my 40-minute journey from hotel (in nearby Rancho Cordova) to starter’s pistol: Katie drove me ~15 minutes to the start-line shuttle pickup point, where I hopped aboard one of the last departing shuttles at 6:40am, arrived at the start line at 6:50am, made a quick pitstop at one of the abundant porta-potties (more proof of CIM’s keen attention to detail – porta-potties nearly as far as the eye can see), surrendered my drop bag and lined up alongside the 3:25 pacer by the time the National Anthem faded on the breeze. Now THAT’S customer service.

The race’s late-registration window for BQ wannabes is, to my knowledge, another CIM exclusive. This is a pretty genius idea on the SRA’s part, one I’d anticipate other race directors adopting in the not-too-distant future.

SWAG: This year’s shirt is a nicely designed, dark blue long-sleeve cotton tee and admittedly one of the few race t-shirts I’ll wear with any regularity after race weekend. And the finisher’s medal is a stylish periwinkle-and-gold souvenir with the capitol building and Tower Bridge emblazoned across a gold “CIM”. All in all, a nice collection of parting gifts.

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
2
SWAG
4
My Media

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Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend

Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend

BOTTOM LINE: For much of my childhood I ate, drank, breathed and slept Marvel Comics. And I greeted the announcement of the inaugural Avengers Super Heroes Half with wide-eyed enthusiasm. … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: For much of my childhood I ate, drank, breathed and slept Marvel Comics. And I greeted the announcement of the inaugural Avengers Super Heroes Half with wide-eyed enthusiasm. So I’m disappointed to say that after experiencing the race once, I have zero interest in running it again.

Yes, runDisney recently added their predictable enticement of an extra medal courtesy of their two-day “Infinity Gauntlet Challenge” (10K on Saturday, half marathon on Sunday). And yes, the race again will sell out faster than you can say “Ultron”. But my own enjoyment of the event derived almost entirely from seeing other runners in their full or partial superhero regalia, rather than from anything the runDisney folks did. So the folks in the home office have some major kinks to iron out here before I can recommend the race in good conscience to any but the most hardcore runDisney-ophile.

First, and speaking of “iron”, I don’t claim to understand licensing or film rights, but I do know Iron Man is a key member of the Avengers, as are the Hulk and Captain America. And yet Iron Man was conspicuously absent from the weekend’s activities, while the Hulk and Captain America appeared nowhere but on the cover of the official event guide. So Disney needs to untangle itself from Marvel’s restrictive licensing deals before this race can realize its potential and fully live up to the “Avengers” label. Until that happens, runners will have to be content with Thor, Hawkeye and Black Widow as the meager on-course Avengers representatives. Fans of the franchise know there’s a reason Hawkeye and the Black Widow don’t have their own movie franchises – they’re BORING.

Second, the course itself outside the parks – specifically miles 4-12 – is mind-numbing. Disney can create magic; it can make wishes come true; it can turn adults into kids, and kids into believers. Disney has the power to achieve a lot of things – but making Santa Ana, Garden Grove and the rest of Anaheim interesting ain’t one of them.

I thoroughly enjoyed January’s Walt Disney World Marathon in Florida and hope to return; on the other hand, I don’t anticipate running another SoCal Disney race. Tough to believe I’d recommend Florida over Southern California for any reason, but if you’re a runner eyeing your first runDisney race, and as long as you aren’t wed to either the Avengers or Star Wars, then set your sights on Florida. And if race distance is no object, then the WDW Marathon is a no-brainer.

PRODUCTION: I appreciate the fact that runDisney events attract a slew of unlikely runners and inspire loyalty among those runners, as only Disney can. And this year’s WDW Marathon was seamlessly orchestrated from start to finish. But the inaugural Avengers Half – and I never thought I’d say this about a Disney production – felt like a company going through the motions. Honestly, it felt like the folks at runDisney half-assed this race. Logistically the race went off smoothly enough, but when your reputation enables you to charge $195 for a half marathon while promising a “power-packed weekend of fantastic fun and amazing excitement”, you can’t half-ass ANYTHING. For $195, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should be waiting to valet my car on race day.

Unfortunately runDisney has no qualms about wringing every last penny out of its customers. Case in point, the runDisney ChEAR Squad program (get it? EAR? Mickey?) lets spectators purchase silver, gold or platinum packages to gain “special access” inside Disneyland during the race and to reserve seating at the finish line. This, rather than apathy, was the reason the finish line bleachers were largely empty on race morning – friends & family had to pay to sit there! Spectators who smartly refused to pay were positioned behind barricades on the far side of the finish line, where the real crowds gathered.

Note to runDisney: feel free to charge the runners whatever registration fee you can command for your races, but leave the spectators alone. Better yet, if you were to offer a race-day Disneyland park discount to every registered runner, maybe you could access those spectators’ wallets without seeming so blatantly exploitative.

The high winds on race day certainly weren’t Disney’s fault (so much for my illusion of a climate-controlled dome…), and I’d like to see whether the finish-line festival becomes more festive without the overriding concern of booths, tents and the main stage blowing away at any moment.

And one other question, runDisney: why would I dedicate (at least) 20 minutes of my time to complete your anonymous post-race survey that no other runner will ever see, when I can post my review on RaceRaves.com where other runners (and race directors) will read and benefit from it? Maybe it’s time to ditch the anonymous survey in favor of a forum where runners can openly share their honest feedback? Your finishers are your best evangelists, so a little trust in them might go a long way…

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
3
My Report
SCENERY
2
SWAG
4
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New York City Marathon

New York City Marathon

BOTTOM LINE: New York City is a marathon in every sense of the word, and if you don’t like your races epic, you probably won’t enjoy New York. But I’m … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: New York City is a marathon in every sense of the word, and if you don’t like your races epic, you probably won’t enjoy New York. But I’m willing to bet you will – and that like the rest of us, once you’re running through its five boroughs with thousands of raucous strangers cheering you on, you’ll be willing to forgive New York its logistical hoops. The lengthy lag time between rise-and-shine and time-to-run is now an engrained part of the New York experience; it’s well worth the chance to start on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and it hella beats running several loops within Central Park (as runners did until 1976). And by the time you reach that start line, you’ll be ready to run through a wall. Besides, what marathoner doesn’t want to be part of the world’s largest running party? Boston may be the marathoning mecca for the fast kids, but for everyone else, that distinction goes to New York City.

PRODUCTION: Not once did I hear – nor have I ever heard – a single runner complain about the marathon’s $255 entry fee ($288 for me, taking into account my three previous lottery entries at $11 apiece). Because it’s clear where all the money goes. This is a first-class production, choreographed down to the smallest detail and on par with the Best of Broadway. The NYRR did a {insert superlative here} job of ensuring the race and the entire weekend went off without a hitch. The expo was easily navigable, the swag (nice shirt, cool medal, sleek finisher poncho) was great, and the entire weekend was laid out in a colorful 53-page PDF, of which half the pages were ads.

So race production was silky smooth from the time we set foot in the expo to the moment I crossed the finish line. Which makes the NYRR’s misstep in mile 27 even more perplexing. Once the cheering died, and despite finding ourselves in the city’s emerald oasis, exhausted finishers were unceremoniously funneled out of the park and regurgitated onto Central Park West. Even – or maybe especially – with post-marathon brain it struck me: Why can’t we hang out here?

Note to NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg: official post-race party or not, that’s your call… but you need to convince the city to open up Central Park to your runners and spectators. You already have the biggest race on the planet – this will bring you one step closer to having the best.

You must know better than anyone that endorphins sell merch. Were I in your position, I would a) be overwhelmed, but b) take full advantage of each and every runner’s post-race euphoria and hard-earned sense of accomplishment by setting up food carts, sponsor booths, a massage tent, the Asics finisher gear store and a medal engraving station right there in Central Park. My guess is the NYRR lost a lot of potential profit by inexplicably herding runners out of Central Park immediately after the race, and by asking them to return on Monday to buy finisher gear and have their medal engraved. Many folks were on their way home or already back at work by Monday, so this finish-line faux pas was a head-scratcher.

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
4
My Report
SCENERY
3
SWAG
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Berlin Marathon

Berlin Marathon

BOTTOM LINE: “Flat and fast” is the phrase most often used to describe the Berlin Marathon, and I’d agree with the first part of that – the course is flat … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: “Flat and fast” is the phrase most often used to describe the Berlin Marathon, and I’d agree with the first part of that – the course is flat for everyone. And in all fairness, its obscene flatness does make it faster than just about any other marathon course out there – even the Chicago Marathon has “Mount Roosevelt” lying in wait at mile 26. But Berlin’s fastness is deceptive because as flat as the course is, unless you’re an elite it’s also among the most crowded courses you’ll ever run. And it’s crowded for pretty much the entire 26.2 miles, with Berlin’s narrow streets allowing for only occasional stretches of comfortably uncongested running. That said, I was still able to PR by 4½ minutes.

So race day felt a bit like an extended cattle drive, and race production – especially for a world marathon major – was surprisingly subpar (see below). But if you’re a hardcore runner, it’s doubtful anything I write will discourage you from running Berlin. In some ways it feels as though the organizers are saying, “Hey, if you want to go run a DIFFERENT world marathon major, be our guest.”

And honestly, I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from running Berlin, if for no other reason than to experience and immerse yourself in one of the world’s most historically and culturally amazing cities. Despite my wanting to curl up and sleep under it by that point, running through the Brandenburg Gate at mile 26 was an indescribable thrill, and moments like that are a major reason I love running the world. But as epic a race weekend as this was, a few tweaks could have made it so much better…

PRODUCTION: I can only imagine how challenging it must be, and how much choreography and security must be involved, to organize and stage a marathon the size and gravitas of Berlin. With that in mind I tip my cap to the organizers, since to a person every runner I spoke with had an overall positive experience.

That said, race production is where Berlin fell short on many levels. In comparison to the only other marathon major I’ve run so far, Chicago 2012, Berlin was a disappointing second. And many if not all of these issues were echoed by other runners:

• The expo was TOO FREAKING HUGE, and was more like a trade show than a race expo. It’s a pretty clear indication your expo is out of control when it expands to fill several hangars of a former airport. Unlike U.S. race expos there were scarcely any free samples to be had… every item seemingly carried a price tag, and even the normally generous PowerBar peeps were carefully guarding their electrolyte drink station. What’s more, the expo was a harbinger of things to come on race day as I felt inexorably herded in different directions, first to access each separate hangar, then to enter the bib pickup area, then to exit the bib pickup area, then to traverse (how convenient!) the Adidas storefront hawking official race merchandise, and finally toward the ausgang (exit).
• And on the topic of the Adidas storefront, as absurd as it sounds in 2014, Berlin race registration includes NO race t-shirt – though official race shirts were available at the expo for the {ahem} bargain price of 30€ (= $39). Do a quick calculation, and you can estimate how much money the organizers must be a) saving by not providing t-shirts, and b) raking in by charging for shirts.
• Re: the pre-race setup, I arrived one hour beforehand and waited in line for ~40 minutes to use one of the ten port-o-lets that were serving literally hundreds of anxious runners. This was horrific planning by the organizers, and was by far the most stressful part of race weekend – even the much smaller (and more well-organized) California International Marathon, which I ran in 2011, had roughly 10x the number of units as Berlin. Not only that, but when I finally reached the front of the line my port-o-let was out of toilet paper. And to top off my pre-race cortisol levels, I completed my harried pit stop two minutes before my wave was scheduled to depart, and had to hurriedly jog another ¼-mile (at least) to reach the start line where I barely arrived in time to join the corral departing in the wave after mine. Damn, I’m getting stressed out all over again just writing this.
• Luckily I took advantage of only one aid station on the entire course, so I don’t have much to report about their frequency or offerings. But I couldn’t avoid noticing that the organizers chose plastic rather than paper cups – an unfortunate choice since plastic cups ended up bouncing underfoot at every aid station, as runners were forced to expend energy sidestepping carefully to avoid getting their foot caught in one.
• The post-race spread was abysmal, and in fact I walked what felt like several hundred yards through the finish chute before even reaching the first water station (at which point I was shunted to another table, since that water was only for medical emergencies). And with apologies to Erdinger, their sponsorship was a big ol’ letdown. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that, after running a world marathon major in Germany’s largest city, the word “free” should fall before rather than after the word “alcohol”. Chicago after all had free-flowing real beer (thanks, Goose Island!). Alcohol-free beer after the Berlin Marathon felt like having your picture taken with a cardboard Mickey Mouse cut-out at the Walt Disney World Marathon.
• Food-wise, the only offerings I could see were apples and bananas, with no obvious source of protein – ironic, considering that even the 6K fun run Katie had run the day before had provided its scarcely winded finishers with both regular and chocolate milk. Later I realized that the not-so-goodie bag handed out by volunteers in the finish chute (why do I need another goodie bag?) contained a PowerBar wafer product, which like so many of their products over the years held true to the PowerBar ethic of falling just this side of “Soylent” on the palatability scale. Accordingly, I gave up after two nibbles.

For a more blow-by-blow account of the weekend, check out my race report at http://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2014/10/13/the-berlin-marathon-race-report/.

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Big Sur International Marathon

Big Sur International Marathon

BOTTOM LINE: Despite tainted race-day memories courtesy of plantar fasciitis, I'd recommend Big Sur in a heartbeat. And I'd love to run this race again (healthy) as part of the … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: Despite tainted race-day memories courtesy of plantar fasciitis, I’d recommend Big Sur in a heartbeat. And I’d love to run this race again (healthy) as part of the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. Nearly as impressive as the course itself is that the BSIM boasts an impressive field of national and international runners (from 50 states and 30 countries) while maintaining a decidedly low-key vibe. Yes, the BSIM will be among the toughest road marathons you’ll ever run, and if you’re looking for a Boston Qualifier then keep looking. But if you’re the type of runner who prefers to run with your head up regardless of pacing, you’ll be richly rewarded with stunning views on even the cloudiest day. And if I were to recommend just one road marathon in California, I have to agree with Bart Yasso (Runner’s World Chief Running Officer) that this would be it.

Unfortunately the race’s popularity (the 2014 race sold out in 59 minutes) compelled its organizers to institute a lottery system for 2015 and beyond. And though at the end of the day it’s still a lottery system, BSIM organizers have clearly given this much thought, as the upcoming 2016 “staggered” lottery offers five distinct opportunities for runners to earn a spot – as first-timers, locals, loyal BSIM runners, groups of 2-6, and finally a “last chance” lottery for all individuals.

If you’ll be running the BSIM as a destination race (smart choice!), your most convenient option will likely be to fly into the San José International Airport, then either drive or catch the Monterey Airbus down to the Monterey Peninsula. Alternatively, the Monterey Airport – with direct flights from Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco and San Diego – is located only minutes away from downtown, site of both host hotels as well as the race expo. Leave yourself time for a leisurely self-guided tour of this quaint seaside town including its premier destination, the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Check out my included GoPro footage to get a better sense of the course along the Pacific Coast Highway along with some glimpses of Dean Karnazes, who I ran alongside/behind for much of the first half.

PRODUCTION: Not to be outdone by the course itself, race production was almost picture-perfect. The Goldilocks-style expo (not too big, not too small, but just right), conveniently located adjacent to both host hotels, was easy to navigate. The pre-race pasta dinner, though a bit pricey at $25, hit the spot without poisoning any runners. The 4:00am shuttles assigned to carry marathoners the 30+ miles to the start were dispatched efficiently and ran on time – and if I’m not mistaken, I thought I heard Race Director Doug Thurston say they mobilized 185 buses (!) on race day. Where they found 185 buses in Monterey and Carmel, I have no idea.

The most consistent element of every race I run seems to be the fantastic volunteers, and the BSIM was no exception. The selfless folks in maroon shirts worked tirelessly to ensure that every runner’s race experience was as positive and as worry-free as possible. Special thanks to Cheryl for my first-ever post-race massage, which refreshed my tired legs despite its inability to appease my overworked plantar fascia.

Aside from the prominent Michelob Ultra tent in the post-race Marathon Village (all the appealing local microbrews to pick from, and we end up with Michelob?), my only legitimate gripe from the weekend would be the disappointing performance of the runner tracking app, which after the 13.1-mile mark became increasingly unreliable. I’m not exactly sure why runner tracking is such a difficult technology to implement correctly, but its erratic behavior in this case wreaked havoc on my ability to catch friends at the finish.

DIFFICULTY
4
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
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5
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First Light Marathon & Half Marathon

First Light Marathon & Half Marathon

BOTTOM LINE: I ran First Light as the second half of a weekend back-to-back following the Mississippi Blues Marathon. And allowing for the fact that the organizers may have inadvertently … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: I ran First Light as the second half of a weekend back-to-back following the Mississippi Blues Marathon. And allowing for the fact that the organizers may have inadvertently poisoned their runners with the pre-race pasta dinner (and apparently there were many of us), I appreciated my 26.2-mile tour of Mobile. I always welcome the chance to support smaller races, particularly when they benefit as worthwhile a cause as L’Arche Mobile, whose members played a significant role in both the preparation and execution of the race. And as the second half of a geographically convenient back-to-back, the First Light Marathon will always hold a special place in the hearts and pocketbooks of Marathon Maniacs, Half Fanatics and 50 States runners.

PRODUCTION: First Light is a low-frills yet well-organized race. The course profile is unusual for a road marathon, in having a surprisingly hilly middle section (miles 12-21) flanked by perfectly flat stretches at the start and finish. Most important on this day was the abundance of aid stations along the course. Normally 19 aid stations would be about 18 more than I’d need, but on Sunday I found myself wishing – due to the aforementioned & highly inconvenient food poisoning affair – that there were actually more. On the bright side, I feel qualified to vouch for the cleanliness (if not the godliness) of the First Light porta-potties.

Potential dysentery notwithstanding, the pre-race pasta buffet hit the spot and was included with race registration (additional tickets were $10). And if I were to run First Light again, I’d feel confident the organizers would be extra-diligent in ensuring the Alabama Dept. of Public Health doesn’t get involved.

The First Light race shirt is a highly wearable long-sleeve black tech shirt with “MARATHON” printed along the sleeve. And as referenced above, back-to-back (Mississippi Blues Marathon/First Light Marathon) runners received their own long-sleeve white tech shirt with both race logos on the front and a “BACK 2 BACK” design on the back, as well as a commemorative plaque hand-painted by a community member of L’Arche Mobile. Nothing notable to report from the race goodie bag except the bag itself, which was both reusable and neon orange.

On-course entertainment was limited to the running commentary and frequent cries of “War Eagle!” from a good-natured fellow runner whom I’d catch up to after each of my five (yep, five) pit stops. Spectators were sparse but supportive, though not as supportive as in Jackson, Mississippi the day before, where everyone happily thanked us for coming. The enthusiastic orange-clad sentries stationed along the course in Jackson were replaced in Mobile by purposeful police officers whose job it was to keep both foot and motor traffic flowing smoothly.

Once my stomach settled somewhat I was able to appreciate the finish-line festival in sun-dappled Bienville Square, the highlight being the jazz stylings of the Excelsior Brass Band (see video).

If you’re a fan of potty humor puns, or simply want to know (much) more about the actual race, check out my blog recap of the First Light Marathon at http://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2014/01/28/first-light-marathon-race-report/

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
3
My Report
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2
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4
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Mississippi Blues Marathon & Half Marathon

Mississippi Blues Marathon & Half Marathon

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a 50 States runner or are simply looking for a low-key, well organized road marathon that appreciates its runners, then you’ve gotta get to the Magnolia … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a 50 States runner or are simply looking for a low-key, well organized road marathon that appreciates its runners, then you’ve gotta get to the Magnolia State for the Mississippi Blues Marathon. With its frequent turns and rolling profile the course isn’t necessarily PR-friendly, but it does offer an unrivaled opportunity to see Mississippi’s capital city up close and personal. Climate-wise, the state is tough to beat as a winter running destination. And if you’re a musician, the medal alone is almost worth the trip.

PRODUCTION: Aside from eating crunchy yogurt for breakfast on Saturday (through no fault of the organizers), my race weekend in Jackson went off without a hitch. Communication leading up to race weekend was minimal but sufficient, and the pre-race expo was small with just a handful of vendors. The post-race party in the Art Garden was similarly low-key; food choices could have been more diverse, but I was perfectly happy snacking on bananas and chocolate milk to supplement the trail mix we’d brought with us.

Race volunteers are typically among the most patient and friendly people you’ll meet anywhere. But the volunteers in Mississippi were a cut above in terms of friendliness, seemingly always smiling and taking every chance to thank the runners for coming to Jackson.

Other than the people, thoughtful race swag set this race apart. In addition to the eye-catching, core-strengthening finishers medal, each race goodie bag contained a Hohner harmonica and a “Made in Mississippi” CD featuring music of the Mississippi Blues Marathon (including the appropriately titled track, “Done Got Tired of Tryin’ ”). And rather than a race t-shirt, all runners received a long-sleeve black microfleece with the race logo emblazoned on the left lapel, and with a zipper that quickly broke. [UPDATE (Jan. 31, 2014): A huge thumbs-up for Race Director John Noblin – all Mississippi Blues runners today received an email saying he’d heard our feedback and would be replacing “all of the shirts that have bad zippers”. As a runner, you can’t ask for a more committed and responsive RD than that… thanks, John!]

One suggestion for future races would be to have MUCH larger labels for each handheld pace group sign. Our 3:45 pacer (Pacer Bob) did a great job, but whenever he got more than about fifteen feet ahead of me, I needed binoculars to read the time on his pace group sign.

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3
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The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship – California

The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship – California

OVERALL: Unless you’re allergic to dirt or ocean breezes, I’d strongly recommend The North Face Endurance Challenge (the Bay Area edition is their Championship race). If you’re looking for a … MORE

OVERALL: Unless you’re allergic to dirt or ocean breezes, I’d strongly recommend The North Face Endurance Challenge (the Bay Area edition is their Championship race). If you’re looking for a memorable way to round out the year’s race schedule, this is it. The course is stunningly scenic, the weather’s been beautiful all three years I’ve run it, and Ultramarathon Man mojo (in the form of North Face athlete Dean Karnazes) hangs in the air. What’s not to like?

Now let’s talk details…

The Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, is an awesome playground for runners. Thanks in large part to the GGNRA’s 117 square miles, the Bay Area deserves its reputation as one of the country’s trail-running meccas. I’d run the half marathon distance for this race twice before and decided this time around to step up to the marathon distance (50-mile and 50K options were available as well, but sold out more quickly).

WEATHER: Despite near-freezing rain the day before, Saturday (race day) dawned on a brave new running world. Bright blue skies, near-windless conditions and temperatures in the low 40s coalesced into a dazzling morning. Maybe, like the rest of us, the running gods wanted to see trail-running phenoms like Rob Krar, Emelie Forsberg and Max King tackle the technically demanding 50-mile course in ideal conditions. Whatever the reason, the crisp clean air that greeted runners in the grassy, sun-dappled staging area at Fort Berry confirmed that today would be a very good day for a run.

As a bonus adrenaline boost, Dean Karnazes was waiting at the start line to encourage and send off the marathoners.

COURSE DIFFICULTY/SCENERY: After an initial ¾-mile descent on asphalt to awaken legs and lungs, the course crosses Bunker Road and left-turns onto the forgiving and well-groomed dirt trails that lay stretched out ahead, like a rock-strewn orange carpet, for most of the next 25.5 miles. A quick right turn leads on to the popular Miwok Trail, where our eager caravan faced its first physical and psychological test, an ascent of 600 vertical feet over 1-1/4 miles.

The marathon course comprises six major hills, including two climbs each up the Miwok Trail and Marincello Trail as well as separate climbs up distinct sections of the Coastal Trail. Together these six major hills account for most of the course’s 4,757ft of elevation gain, and break down as follows:
1) Miwok, mile 1
2) Marincello, mile 3.7 (followed by Alta, mile 5.8)
3) Miwok, mile 9
4) Coastal (part I), mile 12.6
5) Coastal (part II), mile 16.4
6) Marincello, mile 20.3 (followed by Alta, mile 22.4)

Near its summit, the Marincello Trail opens out onto panoramic views of Marin City, which like a newly painted small-scale model lies neatly laid-out below at the foot of Richardson Bay.

The second half of the marathon is equally demanding but even more scenic. The Coastal Trail runs along the western edge of the continent overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with unspoiled coastline and the crash of pounding waves to distract from the hangover of another tough climb. For me the second climb up the Coastal Trail from Muir Beach was the most ughhhhh ascent of the day – 970 vertical feet in just under two miles – and required my first bit of power-hiking to reach the crest of the trail and the zenith of the course, at 999 feet above sea level.

The final descent of the day down the Rodeo Valley Trail offers glimpses of iconic S.F. landmarks Sutro Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge, both peeking over the hilltops to your left. From there it’s a short transition back on to asphalt, followed by a brief ascent up Bunker Road and back to Fort Barry to finish under the familiar red start/finish arch.

While the rest of us were enjoying the epic views, overall 50-mile winner Rob Krar and women’s winner Michele Yates were each earning $10,000 for their efforts. Talk about a runner’s high!

PRODUCTION/SWAG: The North Face organizers do a great job of staging a race they’re obviously proud of. During race bib pickup at the SF store, I had animated conversations about the race with two employees, one of whom would be running it as his first 50-miler. On race day the course was well marked, and strategically positioned aid stations were well stocked and manned by terrific volunteers who, despite having to stand out in the cold, were unfailingly supportive.

Other than the venue, one of the main reasons to recommend this race is the always impressive swag. This year’s goodies included a tastefully designed finisher’s medal, a pair of SmartWool socks and a nice royal blue TNF tech t-shirt, with the TNFECC insignia on the sleeve plus the option of having your race distance and “California Championship” screen printed on the front. And the virtual goody bag included a gem I’ve never seen before – a free magazine subscription from Rodale that allowed you to opt for a $20 refund rather than the free subscription. All this, and a $95 registration fee (not including a $5.75 processing fee from RaceIt)… so even without the sweet offer from Rodale, the marathon is reasonably priced for a high-profile trail race.

As the third-place finisher in my age group, I earned additional swag in the form of a nice pair of TNF arm warmers, assorted CLIF products, a Road ID coupon and – check your excitement – a SmartWool product brochure and stickers. Luckily we’d be celebrating my nephew’s sixth birthday later that day, so thanks to SmartWool I now had a present to give him.

The post-race buffet offered a selection of very decent options for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike, as half the grassy field of the finish line festival enjoyed the warmth of full sunlight while the other half found itself trapped in bitterly cold shade.

My only (minor) grievance would be the 50-question post-race survey sent out by the folks at TNF. Unfortunately I didn’t realize its scope until I was already committed (I’m sure that’s their intent), and though I did complete it, I was definitely losing patience by the midway point.

For an even more verbose synopsis, check out my race report at http://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2013/12/21/the-north-face-endurance-challenge-championship-marathon-race-report/

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5
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Antarctica Marathon & Half Marathon

Antarctica Marathon & Half Marathon

The simplest, most honest way I can think to bottom-line the Antarctica Marathon experience would be “once in a lifetime”. Not only was the race itself unique and surreal, but … MORE

The simplest, most honest way I can think to bottom-line the Antarctica Marathon experience would be “once in a lifetime”. Not only was the race itself unique and surreal, but my fellow travelers were some of the most passionate and accomplished runners you could ever hope to meet. If you’re a running enthusiast with the time and resources, do whatever you can to get yourself to Antarctica, before climate change transforms it into an exotic island destination devoid of ice and snow. But do so with an open mind… if you’re a compulsive type-A personality who hates surprises, then you might want to skip this race. Sensible expectations will go a long way toward optimizing your Antarctica Marathon experience.

ITINERARY: The Antarctica Marathon was the brainchild of Thom Gilligan, the founder of Marathon Tours & Travel who produces the race. Our adventure began with a 4-day stay in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina, followed by a short(er) plane flight to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world at the tip of South America. In Ushuaia we boarded the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, the Russian ship on which we’d be making the voyage to Antarctica, a voyage that would total 11 days – 3 outbound, 5 on the White Continent and 3 inbound. Two of those days in each direction would belong to the Drake Passage, the expanse of ocean between South America and Antarctica that is reputed to be the nastiest and most discombobulating stretch of open water in the world. Luckily both the Transderm Scopolamine patch worn on the outbound voyage and the Dramamine we substituted on the return trip did an admirable job of staving off motion sickness.

The marathon (and half marathon) were run the day after we sighted land and immediately after we all stepped ashore for the first time in 3-1/2 days. Gentoo penguins frolicked along the shore and joined runners on the course (see videos). But despite being every runner’s central focus, the race itself wasn’t the highlight of the trip – that distinction belonged to the continent. In the three days following the race, we stashed our running shoes and immersed ourselves in Antarctica’s nature porn, in the process earning a face-to-face appreciation for what is arguably the most breathtakingly pristine setting on the planet. I’ve yet to spend time on a space station, but Antarctica certainly feels like the last frontier. Check out the photos and videos on this page and on my blog to get a better sense for the landscape… though when it comes to capturing and conveying the Antarctic experience, nothing compares to being there yourself.

WEATHER & GEAR: Antarctica is the coldest, highest, driest, darkest and windiest continent on Earth. But despite the cold, it’s that last variable – the unpredictably brutal winds – that are the real wild card, and in this respect our diverse group of 92 runners (plus 8 spectators) lucked out. Yes it was cold (though relatively balmy at -5C/23F), and after the race both the marathon winner and runner-up made brief visits to the Russian medical tent for hypothermia. But the winds were conspicuously subdued on race day, and I found myself able to shed my face protection early in the race. Though I still felt like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man running 26.2 miles in three upper-body layers (wool base layer, synthetic mid-layer, wind- and waterproof outer jacket) and two lower-body layers (fleece-lined tights and lightweight running pants).

COURSE: This wasn’t the most challenging race I’ve run, but it was certainly challenging enough. The hilly course consisted of two different out-and-backs (past several research bases) that marathoners ran three times each, with the start/finish line separating the two. Footing was precarious, with patches of snow and ice blanketing the course and causing many runners to fall at least once. Preparation-wise it’s important to bear in mind that with its precarious footing, this is a bona fide trail race. Then again, if you want to run in Antarctica it’s not as though you have a slew of choices – you can’t just opt for the road version of the race.

PRODUCTION: Thom and his crew did a commendable job of orchestrating all aspects of the marathon – their race-day execution, under some of the most challenging weather conditions any race director could face, was nearly flawless. But in the end, the real stars of the show were the highly competent, experienced and entertaining crew of One Ocean Expeditions who, along with the largely unseen Russian crew, ensured our safety and well-being from the moment we stepped aboard the ship to the moment we again set foot in Ushuaia 11 nostalgic days later.

SWAG: My only real critique of the Antarctica Marathon experience (and it’s a small one) would be that the finisher’s medal should vary from year to year, and should always include the year of the race (or barring that, complementary engraving on the back of the medal that includes name, finish time and year). There’s no excuse for the fact that as of the 2013 edition, the Antarctica Marathon medal had remained the same for at least six straight years (dating back to the image I found online of the same medal from the 2008 race). On the other hand, age-group awards included personally engraved plaques sent to the winners after the trip, so that was a nice and much-appreciated touch. That said, if you’re running a marathon in Antarctica, the swag – as long as it reads “Antarctica” – probably isn’t top priority.

For a (much) more detailed narrative of the Antarctica experience, check out my blog post at http://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2013/04/28/antarctica-marathon-2013-race-report-act-1/.

DIFFICULTY
4
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
5
SWAG
3
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Brazen Rocky Ridge Half Marathon Championship/10K/5K

Brazen Rocky Ridge Half Marathon Championship/10K/5K

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a trail runner with a healthy streak of masochism, I can’t recommend the Rocky Ridge Half Marathon highly enough. My Brazen race reviews always include a … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a trail runner with a healthy streak of masochism, I can’t recommend the Rocky Ridge Half Marathon highly enough. My Brazen race reviews always include a sackful of superlatives, but Rocky Ridge is a cut above in terms of mixing beautiful views with brutal hills. Sam, Jasmin and their crew have organized a genius of a race in the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. The Marin Headlands may be the golden child of Bay Area trails (for good reason), but Las Trampas holds its own as an overlooked gem of the East Bay.

Rocky Ridge is the “Super Bowl of Brazen Racing” for a reason: with roughly 4,000ft of elevation gain/loss, it’s the most challenging half marathon in the Bay Area, and the toughest half I’ve run aside from Pikes Peak. And because of its Super Bowl status, it attracts some of the Bay Area’s top trail-running talent, so that’s a bonus.

The Rocky Ridge race course wastes little time in muscling up, and the last echoes of the starting airhorn will barely have faded when you reach the first quad-searing uphill of the course. Miles 2-6 are relatively relaxing and largely downhill, before miles 7-11 earn the course its stripes as the most challenging of all Brazen courses. This stretch feels like one extended uphill and, based on my experience here in 2011, is the reason I didn’t give in to early adrenaline and attack the first downhill at mile 2 more aggressively.

Keep in mind that here in Las Trampas, your real race doesn’t begin until mile 7.

Mile 9 features one of the more sadistic aspects of the course layout. As I reached the mile 9 marker, I could clearly hear Sam’s disembodied voice booming from the PA system at the nearby finish line, a finish line I wouldn’t be seeing for another 50 minutes. Adding insult to injury, I was just in time to hear him announce the men’s half marathon winner crossing the finish line.

The most lung-busting, gut-churning and soul-squelching uphills on the course – those beginning at miles 7 and 10 – immediately follow steep extended downhills. And if you haven’t experienced it for yourself, this abrupt shift in both momentum and muscle groups can be exhausting. Learning from my first-timer mistakes in 2011, I didn’t allow myself to glance up at the paved trail of mile 10 ahead of me, winding its way up, and up, and up some more, seeming to disappear into the clouds like Jack’s Beanstalk. Instead I put my head down with eyes on the asphalt and focused on simply getting… up… the hill. This proved a much more productive strategy than allowing myself to contemplate the gut-wrenching reality of another punishing ascent.

During mile 11 the course at last levels off, and aside from a couple of short-but-brutal uphill jags, it’s all downhill from there. Rocky Ridge itself is fairly exposed, so be prepared for a potentially stiff headwind in mile 12.

Again, aside from Pikes Peak I’ve never been so happy to see a half marathon finish line as I was in each of my visits to Rocky Ridge. Quite sure I’ve never enjoyed an IT’S-IT more than I did at that post-race spread.

PRODUCTION: Brazen is lauded among Bay Area trail runners for their top-tier production, which brilliantly combines “low-key” with “well organized”. Their courses are always well marked and their post-race spread is tremendous, with the aforementioned IT’S-IT always a favorite. And more so than any other race I’ve run, Brazen’s events feel like family affairs with many familiar faces (including mine), since their ethic inspires strong runner loyalty. For proof look no further than the “Be Bold, Be Brazen” fan page on Facebook, which as of this writing has 554 members.

SWAG: Each of Brazen’s t-shirts and medals are designed to be eye-catching, and they do the job nicely. And if you happen to be an Ultra Half Series finisher (meaning you run four qualifying trail races plus Rocky Ridge in the same year), you’ll receive additional bling which in 2012 was an impressively hefty coaster – a sweet way to end a successful racing season.

DIFFICULTY
5
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
4
SWAG
5
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Run Crazy Horse

Run Crazy Horse

The race’s official name says it all – Run Crazy Horse. The Marathon offers a wicked combination of picturesque beauty, historical context and a challenging course (5,919ft at the start, … MORE

The race’s official name says it all – Run Crazy Horse. The Marathon offers a wicked combination of picturesque beauty, historical context and a challenging course (5,919ft at the start, 6083ft max) you’ll both love and hate in a span of five miles. As such, Crazy Horse is a no-brainer for any runner looking to get out, explore a less ballyhooed region of the country and spice up their race catalog. I appreciate the argument against desecrating nature, but at the same time if you’re going to vandalize a mountain, you’d better have a Mount Rushmore or Crazy Horse to show for it.

The weather in the Black Hills in October can be unpredictable – unseasonably hot in 2011 when I ran it, snowed out in 2013 – so come prepared for a moody Mother Nature.

PRODUCTION: Sadistic though they may be – the full marathon course passes the finish line at the halfway point – the organizers of the Run Crazy Horse weekend did a terrific job from start (expo and pre-race dinner) to finish (medals). The Marathon had the comforting feel of a low-key trail race, without any wrong turns or logistical glitches. Though I carried my own bottle and the details of the aid stations escape me, I recall them being there when I needed water to dump on my head. As swag goes, the race shirt was a serviceable red short-sleeve tech tee. But the stars of the show, other than the Memorial itself, were the ceramic finisher’s medal and age-group dreamcatcher, both of which will always evoke the spirit of Crazy Horse and the dedication of those who have toiled to keep his memory alive.

For (much) more detail on an awesome race weekend experience, check out my report at http://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2013/11/07/run-crazy-horse-marathon-race-report/.

DIFFICULTY
4
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
4
SWAG
5
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Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent

Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent

BOTTOM LINE: No race name states its case more honestly or succinctly than the Pikes Peak Ascent. This is a terrific challenge for any trail runner, and a notch on … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: No race name states its case more honestly or succinctly than the Pikes Peak Ascent. This is a terrific challenge for any trail runner, and a notch on your racing belt that will boost your personal “bad ass” rating in the eyes of both runners and non-runners. Pikes Peak holds two distinctions for me that 4+ years later have yet to be equalled: 1) my only half marathon of over 4 hours (a personal worst 4:08:52), and 2) the only event in which my stomach actually reversed gears (i.e. gave back to the mountain) after the race. I still wear both of these achievements as badges of honor.

The Pikes Peak Ascent is a half marathon (actually 13.32 miles) that begins on the streets of Manitou Springs and gains 7,815 feet of elevation on the Barr Trail, en route to the finish line at 14,115 feet. And if one trip up the mountain on Saturday isn’t enough, you can register for the Pikes Peak “Double” in which you run the Marathon on Sunday as well.

For middle-of-the-packers, after the first 1.5 miles on pavement the race becomes a caravan to the top on an oft-singletrack dirt trail. Despite this, I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to maintain a fairly consistent pace until about mile 8, when I had to slow down for runners ahead of me. I’d been trying to maintain at least a slow jog to avoid walking, since once I stop running it becomes more and more difficult to start again, particularly on uphills. Passing can be awkward-to-impossible at times on the Barr Trail, but what you don’t want to do is pass another runner, only to slow down and have them leapfrog you once again. That’ll earn you some bad trail karma.

According to the Pikes Peak Marathon website, air pressure is 43% less at the summit than at sea level. By mile 11 my red blood cells were betraying their sea-level origins, and my oxygen-deprived muscles had stopped buying what my brain was selling. Once above the treeline (~12,000 feet) my progress slowed to a crawl, and negotiating the “Golden Steps” (i.e. the large boulders blocking the trail in several places) felt like trying to scale the Great Wall. Case in point, my mile 12 clocked in at an impressively sluggish 26 minutes, 55 seconds.

Once above the treeline I also paused to take pictures of the world spread out below, these pauses doubling as convenient excuses to rest. Runners trudging along like diligent, winded ants were visible on the trail above and below my vantage point.

Luckily Mother Nature cooperated with partly cloudy skies all day, which made for pleasant running conditions aside from not being able to draw a deep breath in the last few miles.

My brother and sister-in-law ran the Pikes Peak Marathon the day after I ran the Ascent, finishing in 7:29:52 and 9:55:13, respectively. Apparently my biggest mistake was stopping at the top… he claimed that as soon as he turned around and started his descent, he could feel more and more oxygen entering his lungs with each breath. Admittedly now, four years later, I’d love to go back and test my mettle in the full marathon.

My only regret was that with my stomach in post-race turmoil, I opted not to test it with a “world famous” high-altitude donut from the summit café. Next time…

PRODUCTION: The pre-race expo on Friday was held outdoors in a large tent and was comfortably low key, making it easy to pick up our registration materials and browse the sponsor booths in a short time. And despite the number of runners on the course on race day, only occasionally did the trail feel truly crowded.

I carried my nutrition with me in liquid form and so didn’t take advantage of the aid stations, but they seemed to be well-stocked and well-appreciated by other runners. I also caught a glimpse of several watchful medical personnel along the way. Pikes Peak is not an easy assignment for volunteers – there are no elevators on the mountain, so many volunteers access their aid stations the same way the runners do. And yet there they were on race day, smiling away and – as far as I could tell and from what I heard – seemingly flawless in their execution. Long live race volunteers!

SWAG: This included a standard white long-sleeve technical shirt with purple side panels (gold for the marathoners) that I still wear based on its most important attribute, the solitary number 14,115’ printed on the back; and a small, understated but perfectly acceptable medal.

DIFFICULTY
5
PRODUCTION
4
SCENERY
4
SWAG
3
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