Latest reviews by Elizabeth Bain

(2019)
"Low-key, quality race"
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I registered for this race at the last minute to join a friend. I snagged one of the last half marathon spots!

I drove in from Portland on the morning of the race. Street parking was plentiful and easy to find, and I snagged a space about two blocks from the starting point. It took maybe 5 minutes to get my number and shirt, and I walked the shirt back to my car. The tech shirts have the race logo on them and are a soft material. I find the women's cut very flattering.

The race itself offers a 30-minute early start for those walking the half marathon. This is a nice touch, as then those who choose to walk don't end up finishing hours behind the runners. I chose to start with the walkers, and a group of about 20 started with me.

The course is an out-and-back "loop," which I learned has been adjusted from past race years due to local construction (and is also the reason why the 2019 course was not USATF certified). Essentially the course starts from the Buou brewery and heads (west?) along a few streets, the river walk (wooden boardwalk), and then park path, over to a small park before the bridge. The course turned around at the park, returning to the streets a block in front of Buoy, and then down the park walk (wooden boardwalk) in the other direction. At the end of the boardwalk, the course continued past the maritime museum, through a small park, past the piers with sea lions barking and sunning themselves, through a residential area, over some raised-wooden train bridges (with appropriate pedestrian lanes--this wasn't dangerous at all), and through some other parks. It then looped back at a turnaround and traced the same path back to Buoy. The course was largely flat, though there was one small hill in one of the parks, and one bigger hill at the very end of the course, before returning back to the start.

The aid stations were fantastic. Really all of the volunteers were. Every intersection where you could potentially make a wrong turn had a volunteer to direct you where to go. Every crossing of a road had a volunteer to stop traffic for runners. Each aid station had water, electrolytes, and some type of snack (raisins, for example).

The finish chute was well-staffed and runners were announced as they crossed. The medals for this race are pressed glass, which is unusual (I don't own any other race medal like this) and pretty. At the end of the race there is free food and beer for the runners, with the option to pre-purchase tickets for non-runners. There was no beer alternative (Buoy doesn't make cider or kombucha), and the line for the food (a good-looking seafood boil, including potatoes and half corn on the cobs) was long, so I opted for brunch at another local watering hole. The post-race party was a decent size, not overwhelming, and looked to be a good time.

Overall, I enjoyed the race and would do it again. I wasn't a huge fan of running over the wooden bridges--even though trains go over them so I am certain they are safe--because seeing the water between the slats was not for me, so I'd probably opt for the 10k next time.

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(2018)
"Low-key 5k Turkey Trot--FUN!!"
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This is a very low-key turkey trot. It's not chip-timed, there are no medals. That said, the race was $40 at last-minute prices, most of the funds go to charity, and it was beautifully organized.

I'm in town for Thanksgiving, staying in Des Plaines. My sole criterion for picking a race was proximity, and it worked in my favor. I registered online--the race used Eventbrite this year for tickets--and was not in town for early packet pickup.

On race day, I talked Dad and one of my brothers into joining me. We used google maps to get close, and then followed others to find parking. Arriving after 9, there was still plenty of time to pick up my packet (thank you to all the locals who picked theirs up early!), and for my Dad and brother to register.

The shirts are not fancy, with the race logo on the upper chest, and the three supported charities on the sleeve, with all the sponsors on the back. Some people hate shirts with sponsor logos, but I love this one because (1) this is a charity event, and (2) the number of supporting businesses demonstrates how involved the community is in this race. (I ran past some of them on the course!). Also, I love the heavy-weight long-sleeve cotton Gildan shirts and wear the few I own on a regular basis. I'm calling this a win, even though it isn't fancy.

Before the Turkey Trot proper there are several kids' races. The kids get a shirt and a medallion on a ribbon (it looked like it was plastic or rubber, I didn't get a close look). The announcers did it up for those races just like they did for the main race. After the kids' races, the announcer introduced a representative from each of the three charities that the race supports: Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, Ignite the Spirit, and SALUTE, Inc. All three are charities that help the police, firefighters, first responders, and military. There was a moment of silence for the three Chicago police officers lost in the line of duty (still fresh in most minds due to the very recent hospital shootings). The announcers also mentioned some groups walking/running in memory of individuals connected with the event.

About 7,000 runners and walkers did a 5k down part of the main road (something or another highway at that point), and through the neighborhoods of Edison Park. The race is dog and stroller and kid friendly, so starting in the back ensures you will bob and weave--if you are a fast runner, you need to start in the front. The neighborhoods had plenty of people out cheering, some with fires and brunch, as well as people watching from inside their houses. There were a lot of turkey inflatables.

The course had no aid stations, which was fine by me. (It's cold. I warmed up running, but wasn't hitting it hard anyway.) The finish line had bottled water and a tent with a variety of snacks (fruit, bagels, pastries, juice pouches for kids). Fleet Feet, one of the sponsors, had a small tent with a little display, but there was no merch or sales pitch. Nearby was a table to exchange shirts (in case you needed a different size) or buy extras.

Parking was plentiful in the neighborhoods, and we had zero wait to get in or out of the race area. The race started on time, had great announcers, live musicians and vocalist for the national anthem, and a fun family atmosphere. This is NOT a big to-do fancy race that people would travel just to attend--and that's part of why I loved it. I felt like I was just jumping in on the local tradition (22nd year!). Overall, I would absolutely do this race again.

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(2018)
"Community support means great perks"
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The Ladybug Run for CDH awareness is a fundraiser, a moment of remembrance for those kids who died from CDH (50% of children do not survive), a celebration for the CDH kids who do survive, a networking social for CDH families, a fun run, and a great way to spend a day.

Pretty much everything I said about last year applies to this year.

This was my second year running the Ladybug Run. I missed the early packet pickup due to work, and picked up my shirt and bag the day of the race. Volunteers kept the line moving quickly, and I had plenty of time to put my bag (a really nice drawstring from Athleta) and coupons in my car (day passes to Club Sport, gift card for Chick-fil-A), with my tee. This year's tee has a cute ladybug design on the front, with sponsors and essential facts about CDH on the back. Day-of registration was also available, subject to the race limit (which I assume has to do with the permit to use the park).

Pre-race, there was a program to remember those kids who lost their fight with CDH, and to celebrate those who lived. There was a ladybug release (yay, natural pest control!) and a ladybug costume contest.

The 5k and 10k have a combined start, with a separate start and course for the kids' race. There are no formal corrals, but the crowd is released in (unmarked) groups. People are pretty good about sorting themselves out. The 5k is one loop, and is stroller-friendly though there is a significant hill (it's paved). The 10k is the 5k plus another, different loop. It runs past the dog park, so naturally I had to stop and pet some dogs, and watch some of them playing.

We had gorgeous weather once again for the after-party. Sponsorships literally pay for everything, so 100% of your entry fee goes to CDH awareness. The after party featured live music, local beer and cider (2 pints each, but there was plenty for another round if you were so inclined), and a huge spread of food: grilled cheese, tomato soup, bananas, bagels, peanut butter, watermelon, coffee, hot cocoa, water, oranges, and more.

While there is beer and cider, this is a 100% family-friendly event. Plenty of kids were on the 5k route. Serious runners had a place up front (ribbons for age group awards). Medals for everyone.

I look forward to the 2019 event.

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(2018)
"Great cause for a well-done race"
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This race has two distances, 5k and 10k, plus a kids' race. The race is entirely staffed by volunteers from Clark Public Utilities, and the race entry fees go to Operation Warm Heart, a fund to help those experiencing economic hardship pay their utility bills. The fund specifically helps people who don't qualify for other programs, like government aid. Most heat in this area is electric, so having the power shut off in winter can be especially hard. One of the cool things about this race is that the entire race is run by Clark Public Utilities employees--there are no other volunteers--and 100% of the race entry fee goes to Operation Warmth. Everything else is donated by sponsors.

Registration is online or by mail. You can register online up until the day before the race, and on race day if you pay $10 more (regular entry for either 5k or 10k is $30). There are two pre-race packet pickups, but since I live in Portland and wanted to avoid the extra trip, I did day-of bib pickup. (This only works because many of the people who can pick up their bibs early do so and I am thankful they did!) In addition to the 5k, 10k, and kids' races, this race has adopted the highly successful Race for the Cure non-race option, "sleep in for warmth."

Parking is free and plentiful in the lots at Clark College, which is about two blocks away from the starting line at the Clark Public Utilities building. There was also parking at the library, and downtown street parking about three blocks away; you can also park at the public spaces on Fort Vancouver. The race is pretty low key (though I did see some obviously experienced and speedy runners) and access is really easy.

Both the 5k and 10k courses are a loop. The start/finish is in the parking lot in front of the Clark Public Utilities Building. The area had a bag/coat check, bib and shirt pickup, plentiful porta potties (including the nice ones that are a truck instead of a plastic shed), and booths for some of the race sponsors and local businesses. Post-race, this area had some snacks including grilled cheese sandwiches by Franz bakery, KIND bars, and peanut butter bagels. Since I don't live in Vancouver, I didn't check out the booths too carefully.

The kids race, which I did not see, takes place entirely in the area right around the Clark Public Utilities Building. The other courses use typical Vancouver race routes, with the 10k on an out-and-back across Fort Vancouver down to the river, running west to a turnaround point, and going back. There were two water stops on the 10k course (but you pass them twice, so it's 4 drinking opportunities). Most of the course was on sidewalks, though there were some street portions. There were plenty of volunteers at all turns and crossings, and the 5k/10k split was well-marked. (The bibs are all the same, not coded to 5k or 10k.) The 5k and 10k share the portion that crosses Fort Vancouver, at which time the 5k heads for a loop around downtown.

The field was a decent size, but not gigantic. The event was family-friendly, with participants of all ages, and kids in strollers. There were quite a few people with dogs despite the request that people leave their pets at home (this wasn't super obvious on the website, you had to click to the FAQ), but I didn't see people running with their dogs (and all of the dogs were very well-behaved). I started at the back of the 10k pack (walking with a friend who is on "no run" instructions from her PT) and found that people sorted themselves better than they do at larger races--strollers and dogs in the bag, fast people in the front. The 10k starts first, with a brief break before the 5k starts. The race is chip-timed with the type of chips that are metallic-looking and stuck to the back of the bibs.

While the race only has medals for the top finishers, I'm fine with that. (Hello, it's a charity race to help keep people warm in the winter. I don't need fancy stuff.) There were race shirts for all 5k and 10k participants; if your kid wanted a shirt, they had extras for sale for $10 (this is because the kids' race is free registration). Since I registered pretty late, I was offered one of last year's shirts (they had XS, S, XL, and XXL) which was fine with me since I like the design better. The first 1000 registrants also received a goody bag with stuff in it from the race sponsors. (No idea what all was in there, since I registered late, but I'm cool with that.)

The finisher party was across the street in the library parking lot, in two big tents. The first tent was a beer tent, with locally made beer called "Heart of the Couve." The second tent was the soup tent, sponsored by a farmer's market/produce market Chuck's something. There was a turkey soup and a vegetarian vegetable barley. I was happy for a warm bowl of soup at the end.

I would definitely run this race again. (Maybe even run next year.) It's a great cause, and the race was very well-organized and well-run.

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(2017)
"IMPROVED course, unique experience, party on the strip!"
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Disclosure: I am a member of the Rock 'n' Blog team for 2017. In exchange for helping to promote the races, team members received free entries to the races. All opinions are my own, and race reviews are not required by Rock 'n' Blog.

This is my third year doing the 5k and half marathon "Remix Challenge." (Do both races, get a piece of bonus bling in the shape of a guitar with a spinning guitar pick!) Due to the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, several aspects of the race weekend were altered at the last minute (well, within the weeks leading up to the race). Overall, I think the changes were positive, and improved the race weekend experience. In addition, I'm impressed at how quickly the big pieces were rearranged to accommodate the races and local security concerns.

Registration: The Las Vegas races are the most expensive in the Rock 'n' Roll series. I don’t remember what the pre-sale price was for 2017, but during the 2018 pre-sale, you can register for the marathon or the half marathon for $99. (The pre-sale race runs from just before the race weekend to I think a week afterwards.) If you miss pre-sale but want the best price, sign up at the Rock ‘n’ Roll site to be on the email list, and they will send you an email when registration opens. Otherwise, the price goes up rapidly. I do not know whether this race was available on Groupon, but sometimes Rock 'n' Roll races do show up on Groupon a few weeks beforehand. You could also register at the expo. Per Rock 'n' Roll series policy, you must pick up your own bib. (Long-time runners may recall that you used to be able to pick up friends' bibs with their ID, but those days are long over--and in the wake of the violence in Las Vegas, I doubt that would have been allowed anyway.) If you absolutely could not make the expo--which was the case for the people who ran at Disneyland in the morning and then flew in with just enough time to hit the race--race-day pickup was available for an additional fee. (Said fee is justified when the race is this huge. You really need people to pick up their bibs before race day.)

Expo: speaking of the Expo, I was really excited for this year! Las Vegas had one of the better expos, and it was by far the best of the seven 2017 Rock 'n' Roll Races I have run so far. Like the other Rock 'n' Roll expos, first you get your bib, then you pick up your shirt and gear check bag, and then you enter the Brooks (clothing sponsor) area with the Rock 'n' Roll specific Brooks gear (and Moving Comfort, and some other products), then you enter the expo proper. The usual suspects were all there (all the race's sponsors and series sponsors, like Geico and Toyota), but also a few new ones like Science in Sport (SiS), the new official gel of the Rock 'n' Roll series. SiS had the option to sign up for their mailing list to get a free gel, so you could try it out before race day. (Nothing new on race day!!) The expo had a few vendors with night-themed things like lights and visibility gear. There were also some rarely seen vendors like Sparkle Skirts, and a bunch of end-of-year clearance gear booths. I tried some new stuff, and managed to avoid the eye cream/face cream sales people that show up at every Las Vegas expo. (Fortunately they were not as obnoxious as the ones that showed up to the IDEA World conference expo in July! Why on earth do these people assume that people into fitness want to buy their overpriced anti-wrinkle creams?)

Starting line and course access: As I mentioned, the mass shooting required some changes to the race weekend. The old starting line had been down by Mandalay Bay, across from the concert venue. The new starting line was by New York New York, with the runner staging area around the arena. The race did everything possible to tell runners to expect it to take a long time to get to the starting line. The marathon and half start at the same place, and the 10k starts separately, with all three races sharing a finish line. In the years when I have taken the monorail, I left at least an hour for travel on the monorail, in addition to time before the race to meet with friends. (The monorail is awesome, but it's not designed for a Vegas weekend crowd plus 40,000 runners.) Patience is the key in getting around Vegas during this race weekend! This year I stayed at Planet Hollywood, so I was able to walk to the starting area. As with any high-security race, THE ONLY BAG allowed for gear check was the clear plastic one we got at packet pickup. Gear check was done by UPS, and all gear had to be on the trucks by a certain time. One nice thing about being outside the arena is that the electric sign on the arena had information regarding when the corrals opened and closed. The new starting are staged runners in a T shape, with three different sets of colored bibs.

In the waiting area Geico, one of the race sponsors, was doing spray-on airbrush “tattoos,” and the line was huge (but they seemed to be shuffling people through pretty quickly). There was a big We Run Social meetup, and other groups were clearly meeting up for photos. Security in the area was pretty high, and allegedly people without race bibs were not allowed in the area. The police had K9 units out, as well as some mounted police, and helicopter surveillance. My basic life philosophy is that living in fear is letting terrorists win—I was going to go to Vegas even if the city cancelled the races, because I don’t let “bad guys” boss me around. I heard that some people did cancel and ask for a refund, but the vast majority of runners seemed to be there. Also, the Rock ‘n’ Roll series sold soft tech shirts with #VegasStrong on them, and there were a ton of them out on the course.

Course: This the one and only (well, two or three if you count the marathon, half marathon, and 10k as different…but they share the course) #StripAtNight race. Even though the maps and such in the app were not changed when the course was, they were changed online, the changes were emailed to registered runners, and the information at the expo accurately reflected the course. I really liked the new course. Since we started about a mile up the strip, changing only the starting line would have added about a mile to the course. To compensate, a mile of the old course was removed—and it was the boring, dark, blah mile between the strip and Fremont Street! Hooray!! As a result, almost the entire half marathon was on the strip. This year, I stayed with the Rock ‘n’ Blog “Party at the Back of the Pack,” and aimed for an 18 minute mile (to finish in official course limit time of 4:00…though I ran over that…I blame the daquiri).
Bands and DJs entertained at key points. There were plenty of people cheering (especially when I stopped for a strawberry daquiri and then ran to catch up to my friend), as well as some friendly unofficial aid stations offering questionable hydration choices. (Wine from strangers? Wine-not?) Aid stations on the course had water and Gatorade. The gel stop had SiS gels, which don’t require any water with them. Instead of being thick and frosting-like (think Gu, Cliff Shots) or thin and watery (like Glukos, the prior official gel of the series), SiS gel has the consistency of super soft jello. I found it very easy to slurp down and with zero tummy upset—but always try stuff before you eat it on course during a race!

Post-race: the usual Rock 'n' Roll finish line celebration! Lights, flashing lights, a gymnast on a trapeze suspended by balloons, everyone’s favorite announcer (Ann is THE BEST), and a chute lined with cheering people, runners who have finished, and music! Post-race snacks included water, Gatorade, chocolate milk (with enough left for even the longer-than-4-hour half marathoners), pretzels, Pocki sticks (not kidding—they had pallets of them!), bananas (too brown for my taste), and Pringles. I never thought I’d like Pringles again (they are kind of weird), but after a race they are delicious! The entire chute from finish line through the “beer garden” (really just an area where you got your free beer) was about 0.4 mile, so most people took it slowly.

Outside the chute were a series of tents. The gear store had many of the same pre-race items at the expo, but also had some things I didn’t see at the expo, such as race shirts with everyone’s name on them. The lines at the Remix Challenge and Heavy Medals pickup booths both moved quickly.
Swag: This race has had pretty cool medals for the past few years, including a slot machine themed medal that had spinners and glowed in the dark. This year the marathon, half, and 10k medals had a larger frame, an interior spinning circle designed to look like a roulette wheel (but only with the numbers 5, 10, 26, and 13), and a center single die that was also a spinner. On the half marathon medal, the die has only 1 and 3 (instead of the numbers 1 to 6). The outline of the strip runs along the bottom of the medal. I think I have a new favorite series medal! The technical shirts, which you pick up at the expo, are Brooks, and the women's sizes run small (just like they do in every other Brooks style). I wear a size 12, and need an XL in the women's specific designs. If you are a larger body or have a bigger chest, you're much better off choosing a "unisex" (read: men's) size; those fit more like a traditional tee shirt. Unlike in years past when every race city had a unique design, this year most of the shirts had a semi-generic design (such as a guitar graphic that looked like a neon sign) with maybe a small add-on (like the outline of the strip at the bottom). I think it’s kind of disappointing, especially to people who ran multiple races and ended up with essentially the same shirt, but at least they aren’t all grey like they were in 2013! I did dock the swag a star because Las Vegas deserved much better shirts.

This is one of my favorite races just for the buzz and excitement that bringing this many runners together can cause. Every group has a meet-up. There are a ton of first time marathoners and half marathoners. I see people I only see once a year. I really hope they keep the course changes, as they made the course SO MUCH better than it has been in the past. If you don’t catch the pre-sale and want to do 3 Rock ‘n’ Roll races, the cheapest option will be the 2018 TourPass 3-pack.

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