Latest reviews by Jessica Schaefer

(2017)
"Will run for chocolate"
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This was my first time running a Hot Chocolate race and it was definetly a fun experience!
I did not make it to the expo, but sent my husband to go pick up my packet. As a non-runner he wasn't the best source of information, but he thinks there might have been hot chocolate samples lol. He did say that it was super easy to get in, get my stuff, and get going. So that is always a plus in my book! It is worth noting that there was no race morning packet pick up so you either had to go to the expo or pay to have your packet mailed to you (the packet includes a sweatshirt so the shipping cost is understandable!)
There was plenty of information on the race website regarding parking and the fact that parking would be a bit crazy if you didn't get there early. There were also directions on how to get there via DART, but having never used that system I wasn't sure this was the best time to try. I had a bit of a drive so I left super early and luckily didn't hit traffic so I ended up getting to the fairgrounds (where the race started) around 5:30. The website recommended being there by 6:00, and the 15k didn't start until 8:15. I had no trouble parking, got a relatively close parking spot, and got to take an hour nap in my car. Win win.
Now I say relatively close regarding parking because even being in the closest possbile parking lot (as far as I could tell) it was still quite a trek to get to the bag check/starting line. Probably half a mile or more? After the race I realized how lucky I was because some people who arrived later had to park all the way across the street which was quite a hike.
The bag check area was very well organized and easy to drop your stuff off. The building was also heated! And there was plenty of room for everyone to hang out while we waited for it to get closer to race time. For those living further north it may seem silly, but a 40 degree morning in Texas is no joke (especially when it had been 80 three days prior!) so pretty much everyone seemed to be inside taking advantage of the heat!
When we went outside the starting area was very easy to find and the corrals were well labeled....we thought. They actually came in with ropes to divide between the sections because they staggered the corral starts by about 3 minutes. Somehow I ended up a corral ahead of where I was supposed to be. I had lined up with my letter group but it moved at some point. Looking at the bibs around me I was far from the only one so I didn't really fight it to get back to the correct corral. Sorry faster runners for butting into your space!!
The course was a little disappointing. If you are familiar with Dallas, you know that the fairgrounds are in a not so great part of town and the first mile took us under a bridge with a whole homeless encampments. There were police there and hundreds of other runners so I never felt like safety was really an issue, but at the same time it's not particularly scenic. There was a section along a bike trail that went through nicer neighborhoods, but the vast majority of the race didn't really provide a whole lot to look at. One other pet peeve was that the police were letting cars through when there was a small gap between runners. While I absolutely understand this from a practical perspective and keeping traffic moving in a large city, it makes me very anxious because you never know when a second car might be a little too determined to make it through. As runners I think we are all pretty aware that drivers don't often have a lot of patience for runners holding up their drive.
Overall the course was pretty smooth, there were some minor hills here and there, the biggest incline was an overpass though, so nothing was too crazy.
The finish line was exciting and they had big medals for all the runners. There were also bottles of water. But then it was a pretty long walk through the finish chute to get to the post race festivity area and the bowls of chocolate/snacks everyone was excited for. It might have been partially the cold, but the walk was a little bit of a downer before getting to the festival area. I think there might have been more excitement in the festival area if it was closer to the finish or there was more hype while you were walking. As it was, I was pretty surprised how quiet the festival area really was. Again, Texans don't really do cold weather so that could have been a major factor!
Bag check at the end was also super easy. They saw my bib number as I was walking up and had my bag before I made it to the station.
Overall it was a very fun experience and I enjoyed my first race in Dallas. I think the concept behind the race is great and it was very well organized. If the course was a little more scenic I would run it again in a heartbeat! If you have never run a Hot Chocolate race in the past I think it is a fun one to experience :)

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(2016)
"Great tour of College Station!"
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Could not have asked for a better race!
The expo was super easy to navigate and very well organized. It had all the necessities and the finisher jacket on display which was great to see. The shirts were tech shirts and really cool, but the women's cut wasn't great. Unfortunately they were still super boxy and just really short. I am on the taller side so this is a common problem for me anyways. But the medal and jacket more than made up for the shirt!
Race morning parking was very easy as the start line was right near the mall so there was ample parking space! There were ample porta potties and a bag drop was offered.
The race started right on time and we had perfect weather! This was my first time in College Station so I really enjoyed getting to run through it. The course took us through beautiful neighborhoods and a good portion of the Texas A&M campus which is just beautiful.
The on course aid stations were great and, as a trail race enthusiast, I was thrilled that they had "real" food (aka oranges, bananas, Skittles and gummy bears) in addition to GU. The water and Gatorade were all in the same paper cups but the volunteers were great about letting you know what they had. At each station the water was with the first group of volunteers then there were several open feet followed by the volunteers with Gatorade so it was pretty easy to not grab the wrong thing. There was one station that confused me because it was backwards from the rest with Gatorade first....but the volunteers were loud enough and clear enough that I knew well before grabbing a cup exactly what I was going to get.
The cheer stations were also AMAZING! The Texas A&M Student groups were out in full force cheering with signs and sometimes costumes. I was not particularly well trained for this race so the extra motivation was huge to me and I was so appreciative that all these strangers were out there being so supportive of every runner that came through. The race also let you put your name on your bib which some of the cheer stations noticed and they would cheer you on by name as you came through. It may not sound like much but it really made a world of difference.
There were a few hills on the course but nothing major. The most difficult thing for me was the camber of the road. I don't run on the road very often so it was pretty rough on my legs. Some parts were worse than others, but I imagine if you train on roads it would not be quite so difficult. There were also portions where you could easily hop up on the sidewalk and run there instead.
I was definitely toward the back of the pack at the finish line but the announcer was amazing and didn't seem to have lost any enthusiasm. My husband was waiting for me and had already texted that he though the guy was great! The medal (which they kept secret until race day!) was HUGE! While you got your medal they were also giving out bottles of water then it was a short walk to snacks and finisher jackets. The jackets are the coolest race swag ever! The volunteers handing them out were super organized and there was a ticket on your bib to let them know what size you needed. Always a good thing since I don't think I could remember my own name at that point! After the jackets there were tables set up where you could get pizza rolls, breakfast burritos, margaritas, and beer....and not just any beer, delicious beer from Karbach Brewing (which is in Houston)! After a race just about any beer tastes good, but when it's actually good beer it tastes even better!
Overall I loved this race and hope to run it again in the future.

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(2016)
"50k of fun"
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Registering for this race was easy and changing distances later was also no problem which I very much appreciated.
Race morning parking was easy and well directed with just a short walk to the start area. I also picked up my bib and shirt on race morning. I was there maybe an hour early and there was no line. They also had coffee and giant water tubs.
The 50k started in three waves which was nice as there were about 200 runners and it spread things out a bit.
The course wasn't super technical though there were spots of rocks. If you are used to hills it probably wouldn't be bad either. My flat land legs were protesting by the end though. It is also worth mentioning that there is some sand on the course. Being unfamiliar with Wisconsin I didn't think save would be an issue so I was unprepared and my feet paid the price.
The volunteers at the aid stations were great and so enthusiastic. The aid stations also had all the usual oranges and chips end candy in addition to Clif gels.
The scenery on the course was great. This was my first time in Wisconsin so everything was new to me which made the miles go by much faster. There were several prairie stretches which got pretty toasty once the sun was up, but once you got back into the woods the temperature was much better.
The finish are was full of spectators and the announcer was great at calling out every runner coming through. In addition to a medal you also received a reusable water bottle...a nice change from the usual disposable ones! Those who ran a marathon or longer (all the Saturday events) got a beer and a hot meal which I very much appreciated! There were also many different tents at the start/finish festival with different sponsors, North Fave gear and activities.
Overall this is a race that I would highly recommend! I had a great time and hope to run it again in the future...after upping my hill training!

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(2016)
"Run For the Gecko...and cake!"
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This is by far the best 5k I have run as far as management is concerned. I was very impressed with the thought Running Zone (the local running store that hosts the race) out into every detail. I picked up my packet on race morning and it was a very quick process. Shirts and bibs were already in bags along with coupons for local stores and restaurants. There was also ample parking very nearby so I was able to go back and forth to my car to drop stuff off and go back for the things I forgot.
The starting corral was very well organized with signs for expected pace that people seemed to do very well with lining up near as there was no crowding at the start.
The course was flat, it is right on the coast, so there were no hills to contend with and the weather that morning was absolutely perfect! There was one aid station along the course with water, and there were timing mats and clocks at miles one and two. This was the first 5k I have run with multiple timing mats so I was impressed.
There were also several photographers and even a couple drones taking video along the course and all the pictures will be made available on Facebook for free which is always a huge plus in my book!
The finish line was stocked with jugs of water and gatorade that was self-serve. As it wasn't a massive race this worked well. Finishers of the entire series were given medals, but everyone else got a party hat which I thought was really cool since it is their birthday race! As you walked to the main after party area you could pick up free little smoothies from Planet Smoothie then there was birthday cake, pancakes, scrambled eggs, and of course bananas. For those over 21 there was also champagne and strawberries!
There were also ample picnic tables to sit at while the age group awards were handed out...and they had random drawing giveaways at the end of age group awards (including giving away a laptop!) so almost all the runners stayed all through the awards which I thought was very cool!
Overall, it is a 5k so probably not worth flying for, however, if you happen to be in driving distance I highly highly recommend going to this race or one of the others in the Running Zone race series! I was told by several other runners that they were all this well put on so I definitely intend to run more of their races in the future!

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(2015)
"They really mean all terrain"
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This was my first ultra and I could not have asked for a better experience!
Packet pick up was available ahead of time at a local running store, but since it was all the way across town I opted to pick my number and shirt up on race morning.
A quick word about the shirts, they are all printed in house! In fact all signs and awards are also made by the race team which I personally think is pretty awesome fits perfectly with the trail running atmosphere! The shirts are also the best fitting I have ever gotten from a race by a long shot....and they are incredibly soft to boot! A lot of my race shirts end up in the back of the closet; this one I am wearing all the time.
Back to race morning packet pick up: other than the fact that my hands were shaking from the cold (it was in the low 60s I think) so badly I could barely sign the waiver, I sped right through and got all my things in order for the day. The crew and volunteers were there an hour before the fifty miler start and 2 hours before the rest of us mortals took off. There was also the option to set up a tent since the 50miler/50k/marathon would go through the start/finish line several times. I did opt to set up a tent and it was a great idea! I had a place to hang out and get myself ready while I waited for the race to start. This was also the very first race I have been to where there was never a line for the portapotty. There were plenty available and I never had to wait which was amazing.
The race started on time and, while it was pretty cold out at the start it heated up quickly to over 80 degrees for the better part of the day. For the 50k, we ran the half marathon loop twice followed by the 5 mile race loop. The vast majority of the trail was through open grassy areas which was pretty but offered very little shade later in the day. It was not a very technical race, unlike others in their series. There were ruts and things to watch out for, but there were no single track areas or major obstacles to dodge. While the grass was wet from dew in the early hours of the race, there were no other parts where your feel got wet despite the fact that there were views of swamps, ponds, and I think even a big lake for most of the race. Just so the runners could not complain about lack of variety in terrain, there was also a two mile stretch (ok maybe a little longer than that) of sugar sand on the half marathon course. For those of you following along at home, that means I got to run in twice. Well actually I walked it twice and that was plenty challenging. Though there was really not that much elevation change, after all this is central Florida, the tough terrain certainly made this race quite challenging.
They aid stations were well staffed and each had a shade tent which was amazing later in the day when there was no shade to be found on the course. All of the aid stations had water and a snack of some sort, about half had Gatorade. Being a trail race, of course the food was great. There were gummy bears, oranges, goldfish, potato chips and more. The volunteers where phenomenal as usual and made the whole thing possible.
While I am usually not a fan of running laps, I actually really appreciated it in this case because it gave me the opportunity to stop and change my socks and shoes every loop. After the long stretches of sugar sand it felt really nice to be able to switch into a clean pair of socks and shoes. The group I set my tent up next to was also just incredible and were cheering me on every time I came through as if they had known me forever. The race crew at the start line were also fantastic and checked in with me every lap and encouraged me on my way.
When I finally made it across the finish line it was so mind blowing and I was so so so incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity and to have picked the best possible race to run my first ultra. It was hot, the sand sucked, and the people made every minute worth it!
I would absolutely recommend this race to anyone. There are distance options for pretty much any interest and the experience will stay with you forever.

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