Latest reviews by Sam Million-Weaver

(2014)
"Rock 'n' Roll 'n' Rainier"
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The competitor group puts on a great race, and Rock 'n' Roll Seattle is no exception. I have ran this race twice, and thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience both times. I must say that 2014 we had the bonus of a beautiful sunny Seattle day, which REALLY highlighted the gorgeous scenery around our city. However, the previous time I participated (2012) even the grey and misty June-uary weather we occasionally experience in the PNW couldn't dampen my enjoyment of the event.

The course is phenomenal. The race begins in the shadow of the Space Needle at Seattle Center, and takes runners right through downtown Seattle (underneath the famous Monorail--it's in the Elvis movie, Blue Hawaii). The course has an extended stretch south along Rainier Avenue, which offers spectacular views of Mt. Rainier. My favorite part of the course is "the blue mile," along the shore of Lake Washington. Running along the lake is serene and peaceful. The organization Wear Blue (Run to Remember) always sets up along this stretch with memorials to fallen soldiers: the combination of lovely scenery and sentiment just GETS me every time. There is one pretty mean hill around mile nine, and there is a slightly objectionable portion of the course that spans through a freeway tunnel at the entry to the I-90 floating bridge. Running through the tunnel is always hot and stuffy, but it's also pretty amazing to be surrounded by the echoes of feet pounding the pavement while you run on what usually is a busy freeway. The bands along the course were all great: there was a mix of hardcore techno DJs (which was fun in the tunnel), gospel singers, grunge acts, twangy bluegrass, and classic rock. I loved the variety. I also loved seeing the cheerleaders from local schools out along the course cheering us on. One group had decked themselves up in Kurt Cobain-esque flannel, sweaters, and grunge-wear and were doing a hilarious smells-like-teen-angst cheer routine. I loved the shoutout to our Seattle music heritage.

The expo was big, shiny, and totally easy to navigate. I got my packet in no time flat, ate a million free power bar samples, stocked up on nuun and gu, and bounced in less than an hour flat. It's fun to go down to SoDo and check out the stadiums, though.

The one issue I have with this race is that getting to and from Seattle Center is INCREDIBLY challenging on race day. Seattle is ENDLESSLY doing construction around the area, and the insane five-way intersections make driving difficult even under optimum conditions. With road closures for the race traffic around the area becomes a total cluster-fruitbat (pardon the expression) all day long. Public transportation is a dependable option for getting TO the starting line, but GOOD LUCK finding and catching a bus that is remotely on schedule in the aftermath. I paid for a special parking pass this year, and I was unable to use it because I couldn't reach the garage before road closures took effect (I should have budgeted more time for the giant snarl of traffic). Luckily I was able to find street parking, but even after the event I was challenged to get myself back on the freeway and to my happy home in northern Seattle. I got hellaciously lost in Queen Anne because I couldn't figure out how to get across aurora. Never drive while glycogen depleted. I'm not sure if there is a tenable solution to the transportation woes: just be forewarned that it will be difficult. However, the overall experience of the race far outweighs any automotive annoyances.

The medal had a kinda cool coffee cup design, and the shirt is a brooks tech T-shirt (that actually fits!). After the race there was free water, chocolate milk, and Dole fruit cups available. I was bummed out that they weren't offering bananas--those corn-syrup soaked fruit cups gross me right out. Luckily I had a Picky Bar stashed with my gear check, so I noshed down on that in lieu of the free food.

If you're looking for local restaurants to eat at after the race is over: Top Pot donuts or Molly Moon's ice cream are delicious treats. For dinner in the Belltown neighborhood go to Tom Douglas' Dahlia Lounge for a fancy and delicious asian-fusion seafood supper (get the Dahlia Bakery donuts for dessert). For pre-race pasta Ethan Stowell's Tavolata has handmade noodles. Friends don't let friends drink Starbucks: get Seattle coffee from Cafe Vita. If you're willing to venture across the ship canal Revel (korean fusion) in Fremont is the best restaurant in all of Seattle. Full stop. Eat the pork belly pancake, it will change your life.

Rock 'n' Roll throws great events, and Seattle is a great city. Apollo Ohno participated in the race this year, and I totally got to run next to him for miles 9-11...I hear rumor that he scored a PR, so maybe he'll be back next year. I certainly will. If you want to read a more detailed recap, with more photos, check out my blog: http://marathonsam.com/2014/06/21/rock-n-roll-seattle-half-marathon-recap/

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(2014)
"Speedy, but short course. Flat, straight, and did I mention FLAT? race"
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OK, I don't want to be overwhelmingly negative, but I just can't in good conscience recommend this race. I have only run this event one time, maybe my year was an outlier, but overall I got the impression that this race was poorly managed. The course is extremely straight and flat, so if you're looking for a PR, this might be the race for you. However, the course was short by almost a quarter of a mile, so that PR might not be quite as special as it seems at first.

The packet pick-up was at a Road Runner Sports in Redmond, WA the Friday evening before the race. I managed to get stuck in PREMIUM rush hour traffic on my way over after work. When I arrived at the store there wasn't sufficient parking in the lot, and the employees seemed overwhelmed by the crowd of runners waiting in line. This experience accurately foreshadowed my race morning. We were given instructions to arrive at the starting line early. I gave myself a full hour of cushion for what is normally a 20 minute drive. However, traffic was backed up all the way from the start line, along residential roads, to the exit off-ramp and ONTO the freeway itself. It was a stressful and anxious start to my day. I changed clothes in my car while I sat in traffic, parked as the national anthem started, and jogged into my starting corral right as the announcer reached 4 on his countdown. Then it was time to run.

The actual course is FLAT and straight and straight and flat and FLAT. I thought that the lack of elevation gain would be a nice rest from running Seattle hills, but I would have appreciated some variety. I was hoping that the course would be beautiful, as it parallels the shores of Lake Sammamish, but the paved trail is bordered on both sides by tall tress for the majority of the run, so the scenery was pretty monotonous. The trail is narrow at some points, which got congested. There were a few stretches where the trees opened up and we could see the water, but most of the race felt like I was trapped in an infinite flat green corridor. The end of the race is totally bizarre: right at mile 12 the course stares to wind back and forth like a maze in a movie ticket line. I know that I was just complaining about a lack of variety in the straight, flat course, but the series of zig-zags was just strange. Presumably the purpose of this section is to boost the distance to a full 13.1 miles, but according to my Garmin (and several other racers who I chatted with) the race ended at the 12.9 mile mark. I definitely finished this race FAST (long, flat, straight, and boring will certainly speed you up), but I can't call it a PR if the course was short.

This race is put on by Evergreen Trail Runs (though the event itself is all on pavement). The post-race fuel was a smorgasbord of trail-run style calorie-bomb goodies: pretzels, m&ms, PB&Js, bananas, coke, and swedish fish. Trail runners crack me up. It was nice to hang out on the shore of Lake Sammamish at the finish area. There were shuttle busses available to return us runners to our cars at the starting line. I had to wait about 20 minutes to board a bus. The bus was smelly, but everybody was SUPER friendly, and it was fun to compare notes and swap stories with the rest of the racers. When we got back to the start I managed to TOTALLY lose my car in the parking lot. I was so frazzled at the beginning that I had NO IDEA where I parked. After a delightful 30 minute scavenger hunt from hell I finally found my Subaru and drove back to Seattle.

Overall I would not recommend this race. The entry fee is comparable to other big races in the area, but the short course and traffic woes indicate to me a lack of organization on the part of the organizers. The course itself is SO FLAT and SO STRAIGHT, which sounds nice, but you might find yourself crying out for some stimulation. If you want a PR, this would be the race to get it...if they measure the course correctly next year. I will say that the finisher shirt is a REALLY cool purple color, and the volunteers were friendly. However, I would save my registration dollars for a different spring event in the Seattle area.

I wrote a re-cap of the experience at my blog: http://marathonsam.com/2014/03/08/lake-sammamish-half-marathon/

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(2013)
"The Seattle Half Marathon: a great way to run off a big Thanksgiving feast"
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I ran the 1/2 Marathon at the Seattle Marathon in 2013 (along with my dad). I thought that overall this is a GREAT race, and I am signed up for the full this coming fall. The fact that the event is held the first Sunday after Thanksgiving every year can present a logistical challenge (if you are coordinating family obligations, travel, the desire to get rip-roaring wine-drunk on thanksgiving day). However, the race was a great experience overall, and mashed potatoes make for a perfect carbo-loading fuel.

The pre-race expo for the Seattle Marathon is absolutely enormous. The expo was held at the Westin hotel near the conference center downtown. It was easy to get in, pick up my packet, buy a new pair of running gloves at a deep discount, and get out to have dinner at Dahlia Lounge.

The race begins and ends at Seattle Center. My dad and I took a bus from Wallingford to the starting line. Getting to the race is easy on public transportation (and we struck up a friendly conversation with several spandex-clad runners who were going to the same place we were). However, leaving the race afterwards is a nightmare. The bus schedules and traffic go totally to hell around Seattle Center any time there is a large event the forces street closures. I've run into this problem with the Rock 'n' Roll races as well. There doesn't seem to be any way to avoid the giant cluster-fudge of transportation issues, so I can only recommend bringing a change of clothes with you in your gear check bag, and being prepared to camp out in a coffee shop in Queen Anne for a little bit after the race to wait for the craziness to die-down.

Seattle Center is deceptively large, and strangely laid out. I recommend picking a landmark to meet-up at after the race (like the Chihuly Garden, or the Eagle statues next to the armory). The finish line area was EXTREMELY confusing (especially in my glycogen-depleted state) so I was glad that my dad and I had thought ahead to identify a meet-up spot. The gear check was easy to navigate, and there were plenty of bathrooms available in memorial stadium.

The course is BREATHTAKING. Seattle is a beautiful city, and this course highlights some of our most scenic spots. The race begins by taking runners right through downtown, then onto the I-90 express lanes. It's a little strange to run on the freeway, but always fun to pretend you are a racecar. The best part of the course is miles 5-7, which are right along the shore of Lake Washington. After running alongside the lake, the course ambles up through the arboretum. This section is incredibly beautiful, and also EXTREMELY hilly. After conquering some challenging hills runners travel through Montlake (to get a chance to ogle some amazingly nice houses) and along lakeside boulevard before traversing South Lake Union, and finishing Seattle Center's. Overall the course feels very "green" for an urban marathon. You see some of the city's best sights, however there are long, serene, tree-lined sessions throughout the run. I loved the chance to run along the lake and through the arboretum. Seeing the Space Needle in the distance always provides powerful motivation at the end of a run.

The weather in Seattle after Thanksgiving is fairly predictable: 55 degrees, gray, and drizzly. Definitely plan to wear a hat to keep your face dry. I struggled to maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the race. I opted for a lightweight running rain shell- which was great at the beginning and during the stretch along the shore of Lake Washington. However, I started overheating during the section that ran through the I-90 express lanes, and tied it around my waist. The last few miles I kept zipping and unzipping it as I got too hot or too cold. I think that this year I need to plan my layering a little bit better.

The technical shirt is high quality, well fitted, and classy-looking (I like the minimalist logo). Last year the shirts were orange. I wear mine all the time, it's one of my favorite pieces of gear. The medal is a cool looking teal and silver toroid--minimalist and refined-looking.

I'm looking forward to running the full marathon this coming fall. The course alone is worth the price of admission. I'd highly recommend this race to any Seattle-ite (or out-of-towner) looking for a fall marathon.

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(2012)
"Fun midnight 5K for the 4th of July"
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The Firecracker 5000 is (as far as I know) Seattle's only midnight 5K. It is held every year at 11:59pm on the 3rd of July as a way to run-in independence day. I had a ton of fun and enjoyed the experience during the year that I participated. Costumes are highly encouraged; most runners get into the patriotic spirit and represent with some red, white, and blue.

The race itself is held at Seattle center. It's easy to drive to Seattle center at midnight (maybe the ONLY time of day that there is not traffic). However, parking in this area always presents a challenge, and traversing the I-99 corridor is always a pain in the neck. I recommend planning accordingly, and giving yourself a few extra minutes before the clock strikes midnight to get yourself situated.

The race begins and ends inside memorial stadium. Packet pickup and gear check are set up right on the field. The arena lights were shining brightly and pump-up music was playing on the PA which gave the whole pre-race preparation time a fun, festive feel. I arrived a little early, so I had time to apply some star-spangled facepaint, and observe all of the costumes as I stretched.

The course is a quick loop around Seattle center. Part of the route runs past some of the Belltown bars. It was hilarious to watch the reactions of people outside the bars as we ran past. It was fun to get cheered on by some inebriated onlookers. A few guys even offered me a beer as I ran past (I declined). There weren't any aid stations along the course (unless you count the guys offering up beer), but seeing as this race is only a 5K I wasn't expecting any. If you absolutely needed something to see you through you could probably stop into a bar on your way towards the finish. There is one challenging hill right before the finish in memorial stadium.

The after-race activities continued on the field at memorial stadium. There was music, they presented the ages group awards, and prizes were given out for best costume. Bananas and coconut water were available. I waited for my friends to finish, but I didn't stick around too long (12:30 am is WAY past my bedtime).

The finisher's shirt for this race was a really cool design featuring fireworks around the Space Needle. The shirt was a cotton T-shirt, not a tech tee. I normally donate cotton race shirts (the last thing I need is ANOTHER t-shirt), but I kept this one. I like the design, AND it glows in the dark!

Pro-Motion puts on several events around the Seattle area, they are always well organized and HIGHLY enjoyable. The Firecracker 5K was no exception! Running at midnight was a great way to start off the Fourth of July festivities

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