Latest reviews by Elizabeth Bain

(2016)
"Great Race That Shows Off Oakland"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I've signed up for this race ever year, and every year I didn't get to run. This year, I did! Unfortunately I'm having some issues with my left hip, so "run" is a bit of a strong word. But more about that later.

Pre-race communications were great. There were enough emails to keep me informed of the important things and invite me to pre-race runs (I didn't get to attend those), but not a bunch of spammy random ad stuff. The "final race instructions" including bib pickup reminders were sent twice during the last week, once early in the week and once on Thursday, which I appreciated.

Bib pickup. This happened on Friday, 1-7 pm, at the Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland. I had pre-printed my waiver and written my bib number on it to ensure things went quickly. For those who didn't read the pre-race email, the bib numbers were posted and they had extra waivers on hand. I went around 2 pm (I work downtown) and the mandatory items (get bib and shirt) were painless and line-free.

Expo. This was held in conjunction with bib pickup, outside at the plaza. In addition to tents to buy The Town's Half Marathon merch and sign up for next year's races or the upcoming Golden Gate Half--reading this in 2016? Use code BIBRAVEGG to sign up for the 2016 Golden Gate Half and run with me!--there were also a number of sponsor and vendor booths. A number of them didn't apply to me directly (e.g. there was a window company, but I'm a renter) so I don't recall all of the businesses there. It was great to see booths from local businesses Hot Spot Yoga and P2P (a fitness/training gym). Whole Foods, one of the race sponsors, handed out goody bags, and Vega had a tasting tent. OrangeTheory Fitness had a "compete with us" promo where you could win prizes for doing burpees and such, and the Modesto Marathon had information on the 2017 races and were handing out arm warmers and shirts from the 2016 race. Overall, the expo was fun, had some swag for runners, and was a good size for the race and space.

Race Day, pre-race. The start/finish was also at Frank Ogawa Plaza, which meant there was plenty of parking. (I parked at my office, but friends told me they parked in the City Hall garage for free.) There were a bank of porta potties AND the portable hand-wash stations (more races need these!), and when I went past the runners had formed a single line--very efficient. The bag drop line was ridiculous when I got there, but to be fair I got in line with fewer than 10 minutes left to the start. The hold-up was that people had not connected their bag drop tags (tear tags from the bib) to their bags. (I used a spare small zip tie to do this at home.) Shortly after I got in line, volunteers started bringing pins to people so they could attach their tags. Just after the announcer called four minutes to start, another volunteer came down the line accepting any bag that had a tag and taking it back to the check area, which allowed me to jump over to the corrals.

Start. This race is what I'd call medium-sized. There were no corrals, it was a group start, and runners self-seeded. There were pacers with signs to help self-seed. The start featured a recorded national anthem (there were some sound issues with that, but that's probably my biggest complaint about the whole race), an inflatable, and cheering volunteers.

Course. The course map was published pre-race for those who cared to look. The first part of the race went through various parts of downtown Oakland, largely avoiding the areas one might call "seedy" and featuring areas with the magnificent architecture in the heart of the city. We then ran down Piedmont, through the Piedmont area, up to the hilly part of Oakland (for the 2-3 serious hills) and back around towards the city center, looped around Lake Merritt, and back to Frank Ogawa Plaza for the finish. Course support was an aid station every 2 miles, with water and electrolytes. Around mile 8 there were also a variety of Honey Stinger gel products.

Running with a Police Escort. As I'm injured, I eventually fell to the very back of the pack. Just prior to the loop around Lake Merritt, and for a small portion coming off of that loop, we were diverted to the sidewalk--same course, same distance, just on the sidewalk instead of in the road. Around Lake Merritt we literally had our own police escort, a very nice officer on a motorcycle who checked on us multiple times and made sure we knew where the race course was going. He was encouraging, telling us to keep it up and we were doing great. Since the other caboose-runners and I were well behind the official course cut-off time (three hours), we thought we might get swept, but we didn't. I'm really happy about that, since there were just a few of us stragglers in back, and give the race mad props for letting us finish.

Finish line. We were announced crossing the finish line, and the announcer let everyone know the last runners were home. There were volunteers waiting to put medals on us, and medics on hand (I didn't need one, but one of the other cabooses was overheating and needed ice). The post-finish-line runner-stuff chute was almost entirely shut down at that point. We were able to get our mason jars (one of the finisher perks, also handy for drinking water and/or beer out of), there was a water station right there to fill them. While the Whole Foods food area was closed, I'm not complaining because (1) I finished about a half hour past the official finish time, and (2) I was still able to grab two entire boxes of Kind bars and some bananas.

Finish festival. Most of the same vendors were at the start/finish area as at the expo, though due to my late finish several of them had packed up already. I filled my mason jar with an electrolyte beverage at the Vega booth when I picked up my checked bag. Whole Foods gave me a reusable shopping tote. The beer garden, located in the shaded and paved area next to the grassy part of the plaza, was still in full swing. There were multiple food trucks with a range of food for purchase, plus some of the restaurants around the plaza were open. I opted for The Grilled Cheese Guy, and had the best grilled cheese I've had in years. (Oaklanders, you need to find him.)

Swag. Official runner swag included the race shirt (a tech shirt with a nice design), medal (palm-sized, cute design, some sparkle on Oakland, and a beer bottle opener on the back), mason jar (race and sponsor logos). As mentioned above, some vendors were also giving out swag.

Overall. It was a tough race for me because I didn't expect to be running injured (and I thought I had conquered this injury, but NOPE). I had a great time, and think the organizers did well with this one.

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(2016)
"Amazing Inaugural! Can't wait for 2017 and yet another PR!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I didn't realize this was an inaugural race until after the race. It ran so smoothly, I was surprised! This is not Revel's first rodeo--they have other races--but was the first year at Mt. Charleston. Revel Races are all seriously net downhill, and touted as a great way to get a PR. More on that later.

Expo. I missed the expo because my flight was delayed. (Bummer, because I wanted to attend the #werunsocial meetup.) Revel allowed my friend to pick up my race packet for me. (I sent her a text with my ID and a message asking her to get my packet.) She reported the expo was small, which is not surprising for a first year race.

Swag. First, the shirts. At registration you got to choose a tank, short sleeve, or long sleeve. The shirts were gorgeous colors (an ombre teal/green and black) that were pretty but not girly. Second, the organization. When you got your bag at the expo, it was already tagged for use as a drop bag! I thought this was smart, since people forget to take the thing off of their bibs to tag their bags. Third, the other swag. Races on mountains are cold in the morning! Revel gave each runner a heat sheet, cotton gloves ("tosser gloves"), and a thermal/tech beanie that is so nice I'll wear it again. Bonus: it has a hole for your ponytail. Other items in the bag included cards about other Revel races and some product samples.

Parking/Race Day Transport. For this race, we parked at a large shopping center parking lot. There was plenty of parking, and we had no trouble finding a spot. From the lot, we walked to the corner where there were two sets of buses (one for the marathon, one for the half) waiting. These were not school buses but were the charter coach type of bus. Warmth! All of this ran very smoothly, and I did not hear a single complaint about parking, buses, or directions (rare for a race).

Staging/Race Start. The half marathon bus dropped off at an area that I assume is usually used as a parking lot, half way up the mountain. It didn't seem like there was that much elevation gain while driving up. The staging area had great views for selfies! There were a large number of porta potties, so lines were short, in addition to a water station, and gear drop truck. The race director was out there too, using a bullhorn for announcements and directing bus traffic. (I like to see the RD on the ground during events.) Eventually there was an announcement that it was time to head over to the starting line, a short walk in the downhill direction. I expected some formal start--announcements, national anthem, something--but people basically just started running when they got to the start. This surprised the other runners too. Since it kept the runners spaced out a bit--we all had to start our Garmins, etc.--it worked out quite well.

Course. The entire course was on the road. The road was not closed, but there were orange traffic cones spaced well enough to keep cars away from runners. The road is four lanes, and the cones were about in the middle of the right-side lane on the downhill side, so runners had half a lane plus the ample shoulder. As the runners were starting, there were clumps and passing took a tiny bit of planning, but all of the runners were super polite and followed the rules of the road. THAT was pretty awesome. Also awesome, a total lack of potholes and messed-up pavement. Save for the last few miles, the entire course was straight down the hill. The last few miles passed through a residential area and to the park next to the shopping center where we started.

Aid stations. The aid stations had water (and maybe electrolytes--I can't remember, and I was carrying my own). There were gels available at a couple of the aid stations. There were plenty of staffers, no one had to reach for their own water. One thing that was missing, the aid stations didn't have self-help first aid supplies. I'm used to seeing at least vaseline/anti-chafe and bandaids, and the race info said there would be basic first aid at the aid stations, but there was not. I developed a weird blister (probably since this was literally all downhill) and for the first time really wanted some anti-chafe, and there wasn't any. (That's my only real complaint here.)

Course scenery. The view was mountains, mountains, mountains until the last mile or two. Since it doesn't look like where I live, I felt like it was vacation scenery. There weren't many spectators on the course itself, but there were a ton at the finish line.

Finish line. Right before the finish line the marathoners started to catch up with the half runners. Despite my blister, I bolted to the finish line when I saw it. Shiny new PR! There were cheering sections at the finish, and they announced names as people crossed. Finish line free food for runners included the usual snacks, but also pizza and pie! The race ended in a park. Finish area included: race photo stations (did I mention the race photos are FREE to runners??), Revel gear booth, massage tent, a few other vendors, stage with live music. We got great weather, too!

Overall, I loved this race and yapped on and on about it to anyone who would listen for at least a week. It was so well-done that I'm looking at the other Revel series races. (That all-downhill-PR-maker course did NOT hurt my feelings at all.)

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(2016)
"The John Beishline Memorial 5k"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This event is both a nice shakeout for the half marathon/marathon/marathon-relay and a sweet little race in its own right.

Expo
Technically the expo wasn't open yet--but there was an expo associated with marathon weekend. Instead, runners picked up their bibs and shirts starting at 6:30 on race day. Since most runners either drove or stayed within a few blocks of the start, it was not a big deal. When I walked in there was no waiting, and plenty of boxes of safety pins (for attaching your bib).

Shirts/Swag
Tech shirts with a design specific to the 5k event (not "Buffalo Marathon weekend" but "John Beishline Memorial 5k") and NO sponsors ads on them. Since the races are over Memorial Day weekend, the colors are red, white, and blue for all the shirts, but each shirt has a different color as the main color (and the marathon and half marathon are long-sleeved). The 5k shirt this year was red, and I will wear it again. The 5k medal is a bronze bison with the race name and "Finisher" on it. The medal's ribbon is a half-as-wide version of the fat colorful ribbons currently popular with races right now.

Course/Scenery
The race started at 8:30 on an unusually warm day. Most of us were sweating within the first few steps! Everyone running the next day was glad the marathon races were set to start at 6:30. For those familiar with Buffalo, the course started on the Pearl Street side of the Convention Center, eventually crossed to Franklin Street, went to Barker St., and turned down Delaware, eventually cutting through Niagara Square and finishing on the Franklin Street side of the Convention Center. There were plenty of people out cheering, and a crowd of volunteers directing traffic and doing the usual race day things. The course runs by a bunch of the beautiful buildings in Buffalo, the kind that make you look at the architecture and think, "Wow, they do not build buildings like this anymore." The trees are lush and green, too!

There was very little elevation. Basically there was a low-grade up-hill on the way out, and a low-grade downhill on the way back. The course was suitable for even the most non-technical runner, and there were plenty of kids running as well (from high school ages all the way down to kids who I'd guess were first graders).

Parking near the convention center is plentiful.

Overall, this was a pretty sweet 5k. I'd love to see it double in size next year. It would be a great kick-off to a Memorial Day weekend trip even for non-runners.

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(2016)
"Lush and Green"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Disclosure: I received a complimentary entry to this race because I am a BibRave Pro. All opinions are my own.

First, while this was the first year for this event (which appears to have replaced the former Novato Wild Horses on the Titanium Racing calendar), I'm shocked there were so few people. (Official results list only 121 half marathon finishers, 121 10k finishers, 88 finishers in the two 5k races, and 77 in the Run Like a Girl 1 mile.) Based on the quality of this race experience--and the fact that Dean Karnazes was running!--there should have been like 8x as many people there. Of course it is Northern California, and we are spoiled with a dozen different race choices every weekend, so there were likely other races going on as well.

Expo. There was no pre-race expo. Bib pickup was available at two locations in Marin (one each on Friday and Saturday) but I did not go to either one (it's an hour drive for me, longer when there is traffic).Despite arriving to the race site later than I'd planned, bib and shirt pickup took pretty much five minutes. The start/finish line area had booths for a number of the race's sponsors, with snacks, drinks, and goodies. There was no bag check at the start, which sort of surprised me, but it was only a few minutes back to my car, so no big deal.

Shirt and swag. Titanium racing has had good-looking, good-quality shirts for all of the races I have done. These shirts are a lovely shade of blue with white insets on the side. The race logo is featured in full color on the front, and the sponsors are on the back. I saw many people wearing the shirt at the race today, and figure this is one I will re-wear in the future. The medal has a wide ribbon with the race name and logo; the medal itself is a bronze-ish rectangle with the race logo.

Aid Stations. Every aid station had both water and Nuun, and was staffed by more than enough volunteers. After mile 4, multiple aid stations also had Hammer Nutrition gels. The finish line had Hint and multiple flavors of Nuun available immediately after crossing the line.

Course Scenery. Marin County is beautiful, and this course did a great job of providing both immediate beauty (e.g. running through the forested park) and views (e.g. views of the hills/mountains). I recognized elements of this course from the former Novato Wild Horses race, but this course was vastly superior. The start/finish at Indian Valley College maximized time spent on the campus grounds, in the park, and in the rural-esque neighborhoods with farms, gardens, etc. There was very little time spent in the more modern subdivision areas. I saw baby deer (black tails, spotted backs), red-headed woodpeckers, sheep, goats, horses, and what I assume was a coyote. (I stopped to watch. So cool!)

Elevation. While not as hilly as Tiburon, this course had some serious hills. Most were "rolling hills" but many were too steep for me to consider running up; only one had me gaining downhill speed that made me nervous. It's not that the entire course is hilly, just sections. Most of the course is on paved road/shoulder (open to traffic, but not much traffic in this part of Novato on a Sunday morning), a section is on dirt through the park/college campus.

Parking/Access. Due to the small number of participants, the parking area was more than sufficient. The street address provided in the pre-race communications led directly to the parking using navigation apps.

Race Management. Steady, but not repetitive, emails prior to race day. Even though the packet-pickup locations were not convenient for me, I appreciated that management took the time to send reminders the day beforehand.

Overall. As a slower runner who doesn't do hills, carefully tending an injury, who also took time to look at Bambi and watch the coyote and look for the woodpecker, I came in well behind my own expected time and DLF'd this race (around 3:20). The timing mat and finish line were still up (and there were three cooler/dispensers filled with Nuun), but the finish area with the booths was basically taken down. I'm 100% okay with that, as I was still able to grab plenty of snacks on the way out. I really enjoyed the course, the volunteers/aid stations were top-notch, and we were blessed with perfect running weather. I'd highly recommend this to anyone looking for a beautiful, low-key race with plenty of runner amenities.

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(2016)
"Happily Running the Same Course Again--See You Next Year?"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

2016 is my third year running the Livermore Half Marathon. This year I am also running the two other half marathons organized by this company (The Town's Half and The Golden Gate Half) to earn the glittering golden bear medal for the Golden State Half series.

Like last year, I didn't make the expo and bib-pickup. That's because the expo is held on Friday, which is a work day for most of us, and Livermore is about an hour away without crazy traffic. While many people make a mini-vacation weekend out of it and stay in Livermore, it's just not practical for the locals. The race organizers were all excited to announce that the 2017 race is going to be on a Sunday, but that just presented an entire mess of other problems (see below). Anyway, Livermore DOES allow someone else to pick up your packet, as long as they have a copy of your ID. I snapped an iPhone pic of mine, and had a friend pick up my bib and shirt (I did this last year too); we met at the starting line, I attached my bib and then took the shirt (still in the little envelope) to gear check. I did attend the expo the first year, and it had maybe a half dozen vendors of running products or things of potential interest to runners, some of which were local businesses clearly aimed at securing local customers.

The course has been the same all three years I have run this race. It starts and ends in downtown Livermore, right on Main Street. After passing through some streets to get out of downtown, then running along some subdivision-type housing, the course takes a few miles through a local park. There are aid stations at both ends of the main park, and some photographers and course marshalls in the middle. It's a nice break to run a half marathon that seems a lot like a park run. Exiting the park, the course heads past and through several vineyards before running through another park, down a stretch of road, through another park, back to downtown, and loops around a few blocks to the finish. There are very definitely HILLS involved--not epic ones, but significant ones. I like to stop at the top (signalling appropriately so as not to knock my fellow runners over) and enjoy the views when I work that hard for them!

Course support is pretty good. While there are a few designated cheering areas, there were a significant number of people cheering at various points along the street portion of the course. Aid stations were well-staffed, friendly, and well-stocked. There is even one that has a DJ and the volunteers dance. Fun!

The race finishes right back where it started. Livermore has been trying to do unusual things with their medals, and it's been a mixed bag in terms of success. The first year was a metal medal featuring grapevine artwork and a spinner center that is a wine glass-themed piece. The second year's medal was a coaster. The backing is metal, with a raised edge that has raised wine and grape designs; the center/main portion is cork, and the very center has the race logo in color. It looks awful in photographs, but is kind of neat close-up. (the design on the rim of the coaster doesn't show up well in pictures.) This year, the medal is wooden and looks like the butt of a wine cask. The outside edge is metal, like the metal bands that run around casks. Instead of a ribbon, there is a leather cord. The center has a painted race design that is wine-themed. There is also a wine glass charm shaped like the state of California that said 2016 that attaches to the bottom of the medal. Unfortunately, the ring portion of the wine glass charm was cheaply made (unlike any actual wine glass charm I have made or used) and did not stay fastened. As a result many people lost California. (I dropped mine, but found it again. Eventually I used pliers to bend the charm holder loop shut, but to do so required bending it out of shape. I may spend the extra dollar to get a quality charm holder from the local bead shop and replace it.)

Post race food no longer includes a donut, unfortunately. There were bananas, Kind bars (which made the gluten-free crowd happy), and a few other items to munch on.

Just outside the runner shoot was the finish line festival and wine tasting. All runners receive a glass, and there is a brewery pouring half pints (or at least I assume those Riedel-style glasses hold half a pint) and assorted wineries pouring tastes. In past years, spectators could buy a glass and enter the festival, but this year they changed it so that all non-runners had to pre-pay for their glasses. I dislike that personally, since I generally don't plan for someone to come with me but sometimes a friend will come along at the last minute. I also wish I had the option to get a full glass of wine instead of tastes, as I spent a good portion of the after party waiting in lines when I would have preferred to chat with my friends (who were in different lines). I'd be willing to pay for this option, too.

The finish line party also featured live music and a dedicated area for dancing, which kept spectating children busy and out of trouble. (Most runners were there for wine/beer and relaxation, not dancing, though I appreciated the music.)

The 2016 race had gorgeous weather, starting with cloud cover and ending with sun. All of the restaurants on Main Street seem to have an outdoor area, and they were doing a booming business after the race.

While I really want to go back in 2017 and continue my streak of running this race, the race directors decision to move the race to Sunday means it's likely impossible because that means next year the Livermore Half Marathon, Rock 'n' Roll San Francisco, and The Oakland Running Festival are all on the same day. If Livermore were still on Saturday, I'd definitely go run it. (Last year, I ran Livermore on Saturday, and Rock 'n' Roll San Francisco on Sunday.) There are a group of us trying to get Rock 'n' Roll and ORF to work together to let runners who want to do the half at ORF complete a full marathon by first running RnR SF then taking BART to Oakland to run ORF. The Rock 'n' Roll team seems open to working on this, and when I talked to the ORF assistant director at the RnR expo, he said he they were aware of the conflicting schedule and would be interested in trying to work something out. We actually spent about 20 minutes discussing how the two races could work this out and help runners who wanted to do both,without compromising either race or requiring too much to accommodate us. When I approached the Golden State Half Series about it at the Rock 'n' Roll expo, their rep's response was "it's not our fault that Rock 'n' Roll and Oakland decided to take our date. That's always been our weekend." He wasn't even interested in discussing how to make it possible for runners to do 2 or more events that weekend. In fact, he kinda bordered on rude. That was a HUGE turn off for me. (Seriously, there is a decent-sized group of runners who want to run all of these races, and it could be a fantastic cross-promotion for all of them.)

So it looks like I can't run Livermore next year. The timing is such that it isn't possible to run Livermore and either Rock 'n' Roll San Francisco or The Oakland Running Festival. Essentially, I have to pick between a perfect record at Livermore and a perfect record at Rock 'n' Roll San Francisco. I know Rock 'n' Roll has legacy recognition, plus I have the potential to run two races that day, and Livermore's attitude about the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. I wonder if they will change their plans after next year--when many other runners will be faced with the same choice I'm facing.

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