Latest reviews by Elizabeth Bain

(2017)
"Fun pre-festival 5k!"
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This race is part of the Hood to Coast race series. This year the events included a 5k, a half marathon, and a half marathon relay. Since the timing is just a few weeks before the actual Hood to Coast and Portland to Coast (walking only) relays, there were a ton of relay teams there (some of which fielded more than one team entry for this event's relay).

Online registration is a breeze. I took advantage of the pre-race packet pickup at downtown Portland's Foot Traffic store so I didn't have to worry about arriving early to the race (which is good, because I basically strolled into the corral three minutes before the start!). There was no line when I went to packet pickup--which lasted almost all day--so I was in and out quickly. Swag included a t-shirt (a cotton tech Nike job) with a super cute crawfish cartoon, and a SweatyBand with the race logo on it. Some people disliked the color this year, which is sort of a mustard yellow, but I like it. (I don't need more white t-shirts.) The medals also featured the little crawfish cartoon.

This race started in Tualatin Community Park, the site of the actual crawfish festival (which featured food and live music), but the race starts earlier than the festival. There was plenty of parking nearby. All distances had a common start with self-seeded corrals, fast peeps in the front, strollers in the back, and everyone else sorting themselves out in the middle somewhere. The 5k had plenty of families and kids. The course covers some of the same ground as other races in Tigard (and some I had run the week before), but I didn't mind. The weather was a little warmer than I expected, but the aid stations had water and electrolytes, including Clif shot blocks, and I slathered on the sunblock, so it was fine.

The course was well-marked and had plenty of volunteers to make sure you understood any intersection or turn that could be confusing. Unlike many races where semi-bored teenagers are staring at their phones while pointing, the volunteers were all friendly and helpful and encouraging. At the finish line, the announcer was reading as many names as possible as runners came through. The finish line was also an exchange point for the relay, and it was fun to see teams prepping for the Hood to Coast and Portland to Coast.

Immediately at the chute there were bottles of water and electrolyte drinks in coolers with paper cups. The festival area had a few runner-specific booths, including some recovery drinks. Every runner had a ticket for one beer or one glass of wine (no cider at this event, at least not for the race). The main festival area was rather sunny, but there were shadier areas and some large picnic pavilions nearby.

I didn't stay for the crawfish festival (vegetarian here, I prefer my crawfish to stay in the water), but I'm assuming quite a few people did. A great way to enjoy the summer weather.

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(2017)
"Pre-Brunch Cosmos? Why not!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This year's race was a morning race (I understand in the past it has been at night.) I have seen ads for this race series, but never did one until this year. I signed up online and showed up a bit too early to pick up my packet--but I had my pick of parking! Packet pickup was swift, and there was basically no line. There was plenty of time afterwards to walk over to the farmer's market and Starbucks pre-race, and then wander back over to the starting line. (Hence five starts for parking/access. It looked like everyone who wanted to park immediately next to the race start was able to do so. Lots of people carpooled.)

There wasn't a wave start, but people did sort of group themselves (speed demons in front), slowpokes in the back. While the race is mostly women, there were a few men there (including some costumed to look like women). It seemed like the race took care of all different speeds, and I saw plenty of runners pushing strollers, skinny chick runners, walkers, runners with children, and all other types. I ran intervals (not fast ones) and finished mid-to-late-pack.

Swag: the long sleeve shirts are the right amount of stretchy. While the shirt doesn't have the city and date on it, it also isn't covered in sponsor ads. I love the color (light blue) and fit, and have actually worn this shirt multiple times since the race (a rarity, since I have A LOT of race shirts). The medal also features the race logo, and a nice ribbon. It's not the fanciest, but it was cute enough. Post-race, everyone scored two cosmos, one each of two different flavors, and a Cosmo Run stemless wine glass (yes, glass, not plastic).

Aid stations: plenty of water and people. Also on course, plenty of people to help with the few street crossings and sections where it might have been easy to choose your own course.

Course scenery: August in Vancouver and lovely weather. The race started near the river, and passed by Esther Short Park (not RIGHT next to it, due to the farmer's market), past public art, through part of Fort Vancouver, and alongside the river. The course was mostly a loop, with a small portion that was out-and-back, and largely paved.

Elevation: I only give the elevation 1 star if the course is flatter than a pancake. This course didn't have any real hills, but there was a small climb from (what I think of as) the back end of Fort Vancouver, through the park, and up to the road. If you run but never run hills, you'd still be fine.

Party! After the finish line, there's a party! In addition to the Cosmos there are some race snacks, and there were a few vendors as well. The park has a sort of amphitheater, and there was a live band! Or actually, I lied, I think it was a DJ. Anyway, it was great dance music, and at some point I joined a conga line with my cosmo! There were awards for the fast people, and while I clapped for them, I have to admit I have no idea what they won...but a good time was had by all.

Overall, this was a very low-key race with a fun atmosphere. I would totally do this race again.

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(2017)
"Sweet, family-friendly AND competitor-friendly 5k, 10k, and kids' race"
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This is an annual event to raise awareness for CDH (congenital diaphragmatic hernia), a fetal abnormality that restricts lung growth. Half of the kids born with CDH die. HALF. Through the generosity of sponsors, race fees all go to help children affected by CDH!

I signed up at the event, because I missed the two-days-in-advance online registration deadline. I'd still register in advance if you can, though the only impact was I had to wait until after the race to pick up my t-shirt (so those who pre-registered could get their preferred sizes--totally fair). The race swag bag was a mini-shopper from Athleta with a small assortment of useful things (portable bandaid keeper, cookie, info on other races). Pre-race events included a ladybug release (soooo much more environmentally friendly than a balloon release) for hope and solidarity.

The race is in a lovely part of Tigard with lots of trees, so most of the course was in the shade. Runners and walkers organized themselves in the single-start corral, with serious runners (and there were some!) at the front. If you run a lot of events in Tigard you've probably run through most of the course, but it's still nice. The 5k course did one loop, and the 10k course did a different/new loop after finishing the first loop. The 5k loop was either entirely on pavement or 95%+ on pavement, so if you're a serious runner and looking for a PR, this might be an option. The 10k's second loop had a few pieces on a gravel trail, though if you're a speed rabbit you probably could PR that 10k too. There was also plenty of room for the less-speedy (I got to pet five dogs!) and those who chose to walk the whole thing. Those at the end of the 10k came to the finish line just as the kids' race was starting, and it was adorable to watch! The course was mostly flat, but I added a star due to one significant hill. There were plenty of aid stations with water, and they were well-stocked. Volunteers were very friendly and helpful.

The shirts are a nice technical cotton (not a Hanes or a Beefy tee, but a Nike one) with a cute ladybug design featuring the state of Oregon. While the sponsors are all listed on the back, I don't care, I'm wearing that shirt again. (Actually, I *DO* care--that sponsorship allowed the race to earn more money for the charity.) Everyone received a medal, the design is similar to the t-shirt design, again, super cute.

Post-race eats included grilled cheese sandwiches made on Hemp Seed bread from sponsor Franz Bakery, with Pacific Foods tomato soup (warm!) for dipping. There were also bagels and an assortment of other snacks. The over-21 crowd had two tickets for beer or cider, as well as the opportunity to taste the relatively new White Claw alcoholic seltzer. The after party had door prizes, live music and dancing, and booths from other sponsors (Nothing Bundt Cakes steals my heart every time).

This is the first in a series of races I have planned with my "I don't run but I'll walk that" friends. We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

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(2017)
"Inaugural 5k Race!"
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Disclosure: I am a member of the 2017 Rock 'n' Blog team. All of the opinions and words here are my own.

This is the first year there was a 5k at Rock 'n' Roll Seattle; in past years the main races (marathon and half marathon) have been on Saturday. This year Rock 'n' Roll converted Seattle into a Remix Challenge location, where if you run the 5k Saturday and any race on Sunday you earn a bonus medal.

The expo for Rock 'n' Roll Seattle was one of the larger expos this year. The size seemed comparable to 2016, with plenty of other races, relevant vendors (running-related stuff, athletic nutrition, etc.). I walked from my hotel, and it was fine. In past years I've walked or gotten a ride with a Seattle-based friend. There is parking right there, but of course the venue owns the parking and charges for it. I was trying not to spend a ton of money, so I tried to ignore most of the expo. I did pick up my shirt and bib, buy a shuttle pass for the 5k, and look around a little.

I'm not sure if the race was technically in Seattle...it was way down the road, near the Boeing facility. The start/finish was at the Museum of Flight. To get there, most of us paid for a shuttle. (I paid for the shuttle too.) You could get shuttle tickets pre-paid online, or pay at the expo. The shuttle left from the parking lots around CenturyLink field, so there was a ton of parking if you had to drive to get to the shuttle. I walked from my hotel, along with some of my friends. When we arrived, there was no one there--race officials, yes, but literally no other runners. Huh.

At the Museum of Flight, there was plenty of parking for locals or those who had rented cars. The starting line was in the parking lot behind the museum. The museum's café was open, which was awesome--hot coffee and snacks for sale, and real bathrooms before the race.

The race used a wave start, which was smart due to the number of people there. It was a little crowded at first in the back, but by the time we crossed the start line there was plenty of space. The speed demons started in the front and some of them raced it hard. I was mid-back, running a bit and then walking the remainder after I ran into some of my friends from the East Coast. It was a mixed crowd, some people taking an easy lap as a shake-out, others racing this one.

The finish line was accompanied by the usual water, bananas, etc. and live music. One cool bonus: you got free entry to the Museum of Flight if you had a race bib! Unfortunately the race shuttle service ended not long after the museum opened, so there wasn't a ton of time to enjoy it.

I'm not going to lie, I love the bonus bling. Bring on the Remixes, please.

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(2017)
"My first year, my first DNF, and I LOVED IT!!"
Overall
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Disclosure: I was part of the official blogger team for this race in 2017, which comes with a free entry. (I had actually already registered, so they graciously allowed me to give my entry to another runner.)

Yes, I really did get a DNF. I'm also totally going back next year, and will sign up as soon as registration opens.

The Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon 2017 included a half marathon, marathon, double marathon, marathon relay, 10k, and family one mile run. Marathon participation is capped based on the requirements of the permits for state and federal park areas. If I remember correctly, the overall participation this year was around 2,400 people. That's not very big for a race, but sizeable enough to feel like An Event.

The pre-race communication was great. The website was updated regularly, the team was responsive on facebook. Emails were not too frequent, and only contained relevant information. The race had an app that is better than the app for most races I've run. The app was at least ten times better than the one for the large international music race series, as well as the one for the women's race series with all the boas and tiaras. I left the notifications on and knew promptly when ANY change happened during race weekend. I also saw reminders for pre-race events (e.g. Thursday party, Friday free shake-out run, etc.).

The race training program (extra fee, but very inexpensive) included a "virtual" option, which had a "flatlander" plan for those of us without easy access to mountains. The virtual option also had weekly emails and a facebook group for questions and feedback. I didn't stick to the plan--one mistake I won't make next year--but I was glad I did part of it and listened to the advice!

The expo size reflects the size of the race; a race with 2,400 people does not demand an entire shopping mall. Packet pickup was smooth and fast. There were a few vendors and some booths for other races, as well as booths with swag from the race sponsors and a video booth. The expo also had a selection of BRM specific gear, Skratch tasting, and KT Tape application; there were also non-race items such as BUFF headgear, Honey Stinger waffles and other nutrition, and the types of items runners might accidentally forget to pack.

Swag. The shirts are race-specific and gender-specific. This year they were a super, super soft material and nice colors. Per usual, I ordered a size up as the women's sizes of running gear always fit small. This is a shirt I will wear again because it is cozy and looks nice. Every runner also received a pair of socks (of the appropriate size!) from Farm to Feet. Other swag I picked up included a Foot Levelers drawstring tote (nice design, too!) and pen (with a flexible flower at the top), a cowbell from sponsor Anthem, and a cooling tie from sponsor Carrillon. While technically not swag, the race also features FREE race photos. Runners also get beer at the finish line and discounted tickets to the evening concert on Saturday.

Pasta Dinner. Hands down the BEST pasta dinner I've attended. (There is an attendance limit, so get tickets early.) The pasta dinner was at the library, overlooking the ampitheatre, so you could eat and enjoy the concerts. In addition two a chicken pasta dish and a beef pasta dish, there were also options for vegetarians (100% vegetarian spinach pesto bowties, on demand!, hand carried up from the catering truck), and gluten-free options (two to choose from!). Dinner included salad, bread, amazing brussel sprouts, dessert bars, lemonade, iced tea, and beer. After dinner, the race director and some of the crew hosted a chat and course walk-through, and Chuck Engel gave some remarks. If you are coming from out of town or this is your first time at this race, DEFINITELY do the pasta dinner. The course remarks were helpful.

Start/Access. Getting to Roanoke, my friend and I road-tripped down from the metro DC area (and we probably will next year, so we can visit more wineries). You can fly into Roanoke, but for west-coasters it's very expensive. I stayed at the Hampton Inn downtown which is basically a brand new hotel, and walked to the starting line. There was food for purchase (I had eaten at the Hampton) and free coffee for runners. I understand there was plenty of nearby parking. Everything was very easy to find. The "ask us!" information people were walking around on stilts in brightly colored costumes, and were also easy to find. The corrals were self-seeded, and the marathon, half, and 10k had a common start. (The marathon double had an early start at midnight or 1 a.m., as doublers had to finish their first lap through the course in time to start with us at 7:35 a.m.) There was plenty of room in the corrals, and people were generally pretty nice.

THIS COURSE IS HARD! When they bill the race as "America's Toughest Road Race" they aren't kidding around. The course has very few flat areas, and you spend the majority of the time ascending or descending one of three mountains. The total elevation change is 7,430' and it is NOT evenly spread throughout the course. If you do not train on hills, or take the flatlander hills approach (ascend using treadmills, descend using stairs/parking garage/other substitute) you will kill yourself on this course.

THIS COURSE IS GORGEOUS!! All of the hills reward you with great views. Even on a cloudy day like this year, even with some fog, even in the rain.

This course has amazing course support. Roanoke, VA has a population of under 100,000 and you'd swear they were all out on the course doing something. An army of 600 volunteers stocked the 17 aid stations along the marathon course. Yes, 17 aid stations! All aid stations had water and Skratch. Since this is a tougher race, I appreciated the higher-quality electrolyte drink (Skratch). Aid stations at the tops of the peaks also had a variety of food. I recall frosted cookies, pretzels, gummy bears, and donuts. There is a mimosa "aid" station, and Peakwood (the last mountain) has champagne at the top. There were loads of people at the start/finish and closer to town cheering, but naturally not as many cheerleaders (except at aid stations) on the hilly, forested parts of the course.

This year, it rained during the race. Since it was otherwise warm (I'd estimate mid to high 70s) and humid, the rain was actually refreshing. Unfortunately, later in the day there was both lightning and a tornado in a nearby county, and the race director--in consultation with local police and EMTs, as well as a flock of professional meteorologists--made the tough decision to close the course and cancel the race. At that point, every runner had to decide whether to (a) DNF and get on the bus, or (b) continue running at their own risk, knowing the aid stations would all be closed and there would be no one giving directions or assisting with crossing intersections. The sweep buses took the bib numbers for everyone still running (race no longer responsible for them) and those on the bus (race delivering them safely home) to make sure all runners were accounted for.

When the course was closed, I was at mile 17 and running almost alone. That's 9+ miles left of the race, on a course I don't know, with the entire third ascent ahead of me, in the rain (and wet shoes with a blistering foot); even with a full bottle of fluid and snacks in my Orange Mud vest pack, I wasn't sure I could complete the course without aid. I made the tough decision to get on the bus, which returned us to the start/finish area. My co-bus-ers were likewise bummed not to finish--especially those doing the double, who had run 40+ miles already--but we had fun chatting.

As the bus I was on hit the finish area, it started to pour down rain. The volunteers at the gear truck were still there guarding the gear. The volunteers breaking down the runner food tent offered me bottled water, chocolate milk, and cans of soda. The race director was still at the finish line, waiting to shake hands with any runner who crossed. (There were a decent number of runners who had reached mile 20 or further by the time the race was called who had decided to finish anyway. Oh, and even with all those hills, the top runners finished around 3 hours.)

The storm passed and the evening's concerts went on as planned. (I, on the other hand, slept through them.)

Overall, I LOVED this race. It's one of the top races I have run, and one of the best marathons I've tried. Yes, I DNF and I was sore for days afterwards (did I mention the course has hills?) but I cannot wait for next year! The entire town of Roanoke was so friendly, from runner discounts at some restaurants and shops to the hotel welcoming me with a runner goodie bag. (Speaking of restaurants, everything I ate was delicious. So many choices for what is, to me, a small town!) Every time I thanked a volunteer--such as those who were stationed at a turn, flagging the direction, and getting soaked in the rain--they thanked ME for coming to run.

You can read all the reviews here on BibRave and on various other marathon review sites and see that the vast majority of them are 5-star reviews with lots of superlatives. You can listen to people talk about how this started out as a bucket-list race for them but then became an annual event. You can hear the love in people's voices when they talk about this race. I don't think you will really "get it" until you come run it.

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