Latest reviews by Leslie Runs

(2015)
"The 21K Monterrey Is Hot!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
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The 18th edition of this race was held in downtown Monterrey and on adjacent arterial roads. Downtown Monterrey has much history, and the route scenery is both cultural and artistic, a combination of important buildings and grand sculptures. Though there are many parking lots listed in the area, the difficulty was with getting through the race field to access them, a common problem here. We were coming from the wrong side of town to make this easy. We opted to be dropped off and walk across the river via a beautiful footbridge rather than figure out the parking. I had asked an attendant about parking at race kit pick up the day before, and she had shrugged and looked uncomfortable with the question. Because of her reaction, avoiding dealing with a car seemed like the right thing to do. Anyone doing a touristic race would be able to take a taxi both easily and affordably, or even walk if they were staying in a downtown hotel.

The kit pick up expo looked great, situated at the downtown Monterrey government building in their first floor plaza. A youth gymnastics performance was underway when I arrived, the deep shade of the building providing a comfortable place for audience members to relax while they watched. Kit pick up was scheduled from 10 am - 4 pm, but I got there late, around 2:30 pm, so they could only offer me a large or extra large race shirt. Other than my bib and chip there was nothing else in the bag when I checked. I asked a friend who got there close to the opening of kit pick up and her bag had some race flyers in it, too, but that was it. It's probably the lightest race kit in town without any swag to speak of.

The race had a cap of 3,000 people and the starting gate was as full as other races I have run in Monterrey. There were 2,588 runners in attendance according to the results page, and their inscriptions cap was met as there are multiple DNS pages. I was with friends and we positioned ourselves at the 2:30 sign. I marveled at how organized it seemed compared to other starting gates in town; there was even a sign for those running with strollers! It took us about 1:30 to cross the starting gate from our position in the crowd, and this is closer than I usually get to the starting gate because I don't like the shoving of crowds.

The race forced the closure of several major downtown and adjacent arterial roads, thus the field was scheduled to close three hours after the start of the race. Being on the full width of city streets provided the benefit of the crowd thinning well very early into the race, permitting each runner to run at their desired pace. I didn't feel held back at all. Once we were out of downtown Monterrey, the race field was positioned on either the express or collector sections of two major arterial roads, still plenty of space. First up was crossing the river to Morones Prieto to head eastbound to a bridge at Parque Fundidora. At that point we crossed over to Constitucion to head westbound past the downtown core all the way to the Gonzalitos bridge to cross back over to Morones Prieto. Our final leg of arterial road running was back on Morones Prieto to our very first bridge. After we crossed it we did a quick loop of two blocks in the downtown core, much smaller than our first loop of the core. The knowledge of needing to cross the river multiple times placed undue stress on me, simply because I was always looking ahead to, "Where do we cross next?" As a result I never truly focussed on what I was doing in the moment. So much of running is a mind game anyway, and I suppose "where is the next bridge" is just another mind game to play.

This area of Mexico is a semi-desert ecologically speaking, and natural areas on the outskirts of town are chaparral shrub lands. This matters to the race because trees do not grow here unless they are watered and well cared for. Around 16 km of this half marathon were situated on arterial roads with large setbacks for buildings and virtually no trees. Thus, we got out onto the arterial road at around 8 am just as the sun was at the "ouch, my eyes" angle, and stayed in the sun for a very long time. We ran towards the sunrise for about 20 minutes, so a hat or visor would have been a great idea. Intelligently, the sun was at our back for the longest continuous stretch of the race, but we were rarely in any shade anywhere. When we crossed back over to do the final leg towards a downtown finish we were facing the sun once again, and this time it was high enough in the sky to cause a sunburn. I am a shade seeker and I knew that this race was going to be relentlessly sunny, so I had slapped on the sunscreen at 6:30 am. Other runners were not so fortunate.

The other major factor in this race was the heat of the day. Monterrey has had an unseasonably cool and rainy spring, to mirror the odd winter weather and snowstorms in the rest of North America. Most of my training was undertaken at temperatures of less than 20C/80F, but this race day was a blistering one. It was easily getting close to 30C/90F by the time we were in that last eastbound leg with the sun punishing us in the face for 20 continuous minutes. I said it before in my first BibRave race review, "You can't control the weather."

The weather on the day of the race is representative of late April in Monterrey, and you just need to plan for it. The race organizers seemed exceedingly prepared at all hydration stations, which were situated every 2 km along the course. I ran slower than usual and I never ever wanted for water. I stopped at almost every station despite having worn a water belt, and I always received all the water I could carry, usually four bags. The great bonus was that they were cold or cool, and so I would spray one on my head, rest one in my cleavage (surprisingly refreshing, sorry guys), drink one, and carry one for drinking a little later. I think I went into this race improperly hydrated, so I was always thirsty and wanting more water and I could always get it.

I was impressed to see two Powerade stations, and these drinks were both cold and plentiful, too! Even better, the Powerade delivery truck ended up ambling along right beside me at one point and I was amused to see a rider tossing Powerade bags out to nearby runners at their request. It seemed they had an endless supply of bagged Powerade. The most hilarious part of the run was when an older gentleman was trying to catch up to the truck to get a drink, but the truck driver was going a little faster than his pace, and he finally said, "Mas despacio, güey!" Everyone within earshot had a hearty chuckle over that one, and the guy in the back finally told the driver to slow down.

There were some rogue refreshment stations along the course, and I am never quite sure about those. One man was passing out some sort of brown liquid in baggies, and runners must have been taking them because there was a trail of suspicious-looking empties along the course. There was another man with a cooler full of ice and he was handing out what he could when he could in baggies, too. At that point someone asked me where I was from, I said, "Canada and I'm not used to this heat," to which another person responded by telling her friend who had two ice baggies to hand one over to me. She graciously did so and man, did that feel good! I love rogue refreshment stations!

There were guides with flags at all necessary points along the field, and it was always very clear as to where you needed to go to stay on course. There was a chip-associated mat for a 10 km split and guides eagerly directing you to cross the mats. The course did double back on itself closely at two points associated with the easternmost river crossing, offering opportunities to cheer on both those ahead of you and those behind you. The camaraderie of Mexican runners and spectators is wonderful, they always cheer you on! At one point a spectator in a blue lucha libre mask began to assure me that I could do it, "Si, se puede! Animo!" It turns out he's part of a photography company and his friend captured a very flattering picture of me, which he has already shared via Twitter. Generosity, kindness, positivity, and support are the factors I encounter in every race I run in my wonderful adopted country.

The finish line provided all runners with good stuff. I received two Powerade sports beverages in bag format, two small bottles of water, a banana, and an orange, and I could have had more of any of it if I had asked. I had no more hands to carry all the loot, but the water guy did help me to place some of it in the bag to make it less cumbersome. There were many stations for the timing chips to quickly be removed from shoes and then the medal was given to me by a greeter who warmly congratulated me and handed the medal over. I received it sponsor-side up and laughed that it was a Sol Cero logo, a local non-alcoholic beer. There were massage tents in plain view with multiple masseuses and a small line forming of runners in need of a massage. I took a quick look around and realized that the expo was a pretty big deal, especially since it was in the main downtown plaza, but I did not stay. Anyone doing a touristic race would have a blast sticking around and checking it all out, there was lots to see and do.

If you are a runner and you are hoping to do that one race in northern Mexico, this might be the one. It is the only race in town associated with the downtown core, and that is definitely a touristic attraction. The race has a long history, and in this, it's 18th year it was obvious that the organizers thought a lot about what was needed and when. Just remember: bring sunscreen and a cap or visor, dress for heat and sun, and be ready to drink #allthewater!

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(2014)
"10K El Reto Final 2014"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
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This race was held in Parque Fundidora, a very large recreational park situated at the site of a former metal foundry. Parking is ample at this park and we had no trouble finding a spot for 30 pesos. We had to walk about 500 m to get to the starting line, but it was easy to find because the race organizers posted a map on Facebook that was quite helpful. If you were in Monterrey on business and didn't have a car you could use a taxi to get to an entrance very close to the starting line, Entrance #5 on Avenida Francisco I. Madero. Taxis are very affordable in Monterrey. Several bus routes also pass by this park, though I am unfamiliar with the bus system here.

The race website did not post a cap, but both the 5K and 10K races started at the same location and time, so there were a lot of people (see image). I positioned myself towards the back of the pack and I passed the starting line two minutes after the sound of the starting gun. I suspect there were close to 2,000 people there, as Monterrey is a running city with a lot of diehard runners and triathletes. Of course, the weather likely increased the number of DNS results, as it was very miserable out: 8C/46F and raining lightly for the entire race.

Parque Fundidora has different types of paths and the beginning of the race was situated on a very wide asphalt thoroughfare, but it was still very crowded five minutes into the race. After about 1 km of running we were directed to a second type of path, a narrow meander through a wooded area, and as it was raining there was no room for deviation without risk of a muddy, wet shoe. My pace slowed considerably at this time because there was no room to do much else but go the pace of all those in front of me. It was just as well because it meant I had reserve energy in the second half and I was able to accomplish a negative split.

The 5K and 10K races parted ways at the 2 km marker and that thinned out the crowed considerably. This is where the 10K route got very scenic as we meandered through the area known as Paseo Santa Lucia, where there is a manmade "river," with many sculptures and foundry artifacts, and at this time of year the entire area is decorated with interesting large Christmas figures that light up at night. This area of the park has less tree protection so there were times when the bitter cold wind and mist were coming straight at us, but you can't control the weather.

There were guides with large orange flags at all points when the path split in multiple ways, so there was never any doubt as to which way you needed to go. The other neat thing was that at several points the race doubled back on itself and I could see the people ahead of me and then later the people behind me. Loud cheering always erupted at these points as people cheered on those ahead of them or behind them. The atmosphere is always positive in the races I have run in Monterrey and shouts of "Animo," and "Si, se puede," are very common between runners along races that double back. I always carry water so I didn't need to use the refreshment stations, but I noticed that the stations, which were every 2 km, always had water available, even towards the end.

Because I know the park and have been there for recreational purposes I was confident that there would be no new scenic surprises for me along the way past the 6K marker. In this I was wrong because the 10K route took us to yet another side of the park, behind Parque Plaza Sesamo, to some water features complete with Muskovy ducks and other interesting waterfowl. The tree cover returned to being quite dense and the wind subsided. This area was where there was one hill worth mentioning, about 100 m of a steep incline out of a valley, but for the most part this course is flat. As for the previous crowding issues, I was able to increase pace for the last 1 km without being in anyone's way or having them be in mine.

The finish line provided all runners with an Epix sports beverage. I was surprised to see it was in a bag and not a bottle. The rest of the refreshments included a banana, orange, and yogurt in a typical race bag. There were many stations for the timing chips to be quickly removed from shoes and then the medal was given to me by a jovial greeter who congratulated me and insisted on putting it around my neck even though I offered her my hand. That made me feel kind of special; today I am a champion! There were also massage tents and the like, but I never stay for those, especially not in inclement weather.

This was the first race I have ever run on a weekday and not a Sunday. Such is the situation when the race is associated with a certain date, New Year's Eve day. It is wonderful that Parque Fundidora is large enough to accommodate a 10K race that does not require street closures as it wouldn't have been possible to close them down on a weekday in Monterrey's city center anyway.

If you are a runner and you are celebrating New Year's Day in Monterrey I would highly recommend this race. It gets you your exercise before you party, and it provides you with a thorough running tour of one of Monterrey's major tourist attractions at a time when the crowds are non-existent. What a great way to see a piece of Monterrey's history!

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