Latest reviews by Jessica Rudd

(2019)
"A marathon and a half of DNF but all the fun in the world! First class event!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Pre-race: I loved the social media presence and communication. The race has great engagement online and the pre-race communication was just enough to provide the information you needed and get you excited for the race but wasn't "spammy". Registration was easy via active.com and allowed for easy purchase of "add-ons" including pasta dinner, discounted concert tickets (the race weekend takes place at the same time as a city-wide music festival), extra swag (they're design and products are awesome - you'll want ALL THE THINGS!), VIP (I didn't get it but my BibRave friends all highly recommend it), etc.

Expo: This year it was at the Patrick Henry hotel. The expo, race start/finish area, pasta dinner, concerts, etc were all held in the hotel and adjacent park in downtown Roanoke so everything was very easily accessible. The expo was very quick and easy and I loved getting a dose of the amazing volunteers for the first time of the weekend (they really are some of the best volunteers I've seen). it's not a huge expo but there's an awesome little store area where you can get last minute fuel, race needs, and extra race swag. I purchased the awesome 10th anniversary mug but all the products were of great quality. I was very tempted to get one of their Boco Gear hats since that's my favorite hat brand. The race logos, designs, etc were really top notch and the race shirt quality is great. One of my favorite race shirts, although the women's sizes ran much smaller than expected.

Race morning: a few weeks before the race a spot opened up in the Double Marathon so I decided to take the challenge since I'd been feeling strong this spring. For the double you have the option to start the first lap at 1am or 2:30 am if you're faster. Most participants (max capacity is 100) opted for the 1am start. The regular race start is 7:35am so you have until that time to finish the first lap. With over 4,000 feet of climbing this is not an easy task. I'm an average 5 hour marathoner at this point but the first lap took me 5:48. I had enough time to quickly head to the double transition area at a local hotel, grab some snacks and then head right back out to the start of the 2nd lap. My 2 biggest "complaints" of the whole race have to do with the double. First, the transition area with our drop bags was about .5 miles from the finish area. It would have been nice if they had a dedicated tent right in the start/finish park area so that we could more quickly access our gear and get back out for the next start. I'm thinking a dedicated tent with a couple private port-o-johns would have made a huge difference. Second, even though it's very clear from the pre-race info that the first lap of the double is mostly self supported (they had about 5-6 cars on course with water jugs), I think with 100 people running it out of 500 total running the marathon, this represents a significant proportion of the race field and probably warrants more support on the first lap, particularly in the way of fuel and hydration.
The course: I ran the full course at night and half of the second lap during the day. In both cases, the course was very difficult (it is America's Toughest road marathon after all) but really fun and beautiful. The difficulty of the course really pays off with the views you get, particularly at the top of Roanoke and Mill Mountains. I highly recommend doing some serious hill training before this race; I started doing a targeted hill treadmill workout and I'm convinced it helped me feel surprisingly strong on the climbs.
Aid stations: while I wish there had been more aid on the first lap of the double, the aid on the "real" marathon course during the day was second to none. Aid stations are at least every 2 miles with tons of amazingly cheerful volunteers. They're each stocked with Scratch hydration, water, and about half of the stations of gels, bananas, and some other basic snacks. Since I was technically running an ultramarathon I would have loved to see more of the traditional ultramarathon aid station fair (i.e. more "real" food) but one of the downsides to doing an ultra on the road is dealing with typical road aid stations (sorry, they're just not the same lol). However, in terms of half/full marathon road support, the aid stations were perfect.
Post race: as indicated in the title, I ended up DNFing the double due to poor hydration/fueling. I voluntarily sought medical care about halfway through the second lap. The volunteers and medical staff were amazing and I know I made the right decision. I did make it to the finish line area after that and enjoyed the post-race food (pizza, bagels, cupcakes, chocolate milk, etc.) as well as great live music. There were also a bunch of food trucks offering other treats such as beer, ice cream, bbq. Did I mention live music?
Other positives:
- the race app is probably the best race app I've seen. Every bit of information you need to find out about the race weekend is easily found in the app including live tracking that actually works, photos, discounts, schedule, parking info, etc.
- The Slow K! This was seriously the best idea I've seen at a race and every race should do it. This was a 5k "race" on Sunday. Given that the half/full/double are the "toughest road races in America" it's perfect to have a very SLOW 5k the next day. Everyone got a coffee mug with free coffee and hot chocolate and the race "bib" was a lei. There was also the option to purchase mimosas! I LOVED walking with my coffee and chatting with some other BibRave friends along the way. It was a great way to stretch the legs before getting on the plane home. They were very serious about "going slow" too - the only award went to the very last person. Seriously, every race needs to do this. :-D

All in all, while I'm bummed I didn't get the result I wanted, I'm so glad I took the challenge. I really loved the whole experience and will definitely go back in the future (I'm already thinking about next year!) I loved the race so much I'm thinking about applying to be an official race ambassador. If you want a challenge while also experience beautiful views, amazing volunteers, and the best post-race party and swag around then put Blue Ridge Marathon on your must-do list!

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(2019)
"Triple Chocolate Fun for my 3rd Hot Chocolate 15k Atlanta!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was my third year running Hot Chocolate Atlanta as BibRave Pro. I, thankfully, did not run last year during the freezing monsoon so I dodged that bullet. Unfortunately, that also meant I was ineligible for the 3-year legacy award since you had to run consecutive years for that. I would have been nice if they offered legacy awards for number of times run overall, rather than consecutive but it's not big deal, just a thought. In spite of the very inconsistent weather that the Atlanta race seems to experience each year (something that race management obviously cannot control) I've found Hot Chocolate to be a very consistent production with nice touches and definite improvements since the race first started here 7 years ago. General thoughts:

1) Location location: After last year's hiatus start area change due to construction, the start/finish was back at Centennial Park. I love this location for races. It's easily accessible via public transit and has lots of surrounding paid parking garages as well for those traveling from outside the city. I do recommend driving to one of the outer MARTA stations and taking the train instead though since parking at the stations are free and the trip is $2.50 each way. I live within a few miles of the start (the course actually goes through my neighborhood) so I was able to take the bike share to the start.

In addition to access, there's also several public bathroom locations around the park, plus an abundance of port-o-potties. Once again, the number of potties this year was impressive and there were never lines, even as we walked to the start area 15 minutes before start. Honestly, not waiting for the bathroom at the start of a race automatically earns an extra star in my book.

2) Swag: the chocolate bowl and medal were the same/very similar to past years,and the jacket has improved over the years. Jacket options include black/grey or women's cut is purple (you can choose either one), with hood and thumbholes. It's a nice soft material as well, which has been a nice improvement since the early years of the race. My only complaint this year is that the zippers are pretty cheap and mine is already getting stuck. I'm not sure if I just a lemon and maybe I could have traded it out but by time I realized the issue I had already left so hopefully I can fix it. I'm taking a start off of swag for that.

3) Expo: I think the last few years the expo has been in the GWCC (?). IMO it was always too crowded and you have to walk forever to get through all the GWCC buildings. The expo this year was at the Hyatt Regency which I loved for 2 reasons: it's John Portman designed building so it's architecturally awesome, and it's right outside Peachtree Center MARTA station so it's extremely easy to get there. It's not a huge expo which, personally, I prefer, but some people may find the smaller setting to be disappointing. Overall, bib pickup is very easy, you can try on and trade jacket sizes/color if wanted, and they have just enough booths to have all of your general runner needs, i.e. shoes, snacks, extra swag, etc.

Course: It goes without saying due to the Atlanta location but, if you're not familiar with ATL know that this course has HILLS. For me the rolling hills are perfect since it's what I train on all the time but others might find it daunting. Just be prepared for some hill training and remember; for every uphill there will be a nice zoomy downhill. Aid stations come every 2 miles like clockwork and all included Nuun electrolyte drink (a HUGE plus over most races that include overly sweet/sugary Gatorade/Powerade), water, and some sweet snack (dark chocolate bits, marshmallows, candy hearts). As much as the sweets are an appropriate touch for the theme of the race, it would have been nice to have a more traditional runner snack like gu or fruit, maybe around the 6 mile mark. Generally though, fuel isn't that important for 9 miles and the Nuun is really all you need. Just a thought.

Every time I've run this race I end up with a PR which has been a nice measure of my fitness over the last 3+ years. Between the 1st and 2nd year I ran a 4+ minute PR and this year I ran another 7 minute PR over that, so I've improved by more than 10 minutes since my first Hot Chocolate 15k! Woot!

Once again, I'm really happy I had the opportunity to run this race as part of being a BibRave Pro. I guess next year I'll be back and try for sub 1:30 time! :-D

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(2018)
"Run for a purpose at DAV5K Atlanta"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The DAV 5K is a national race series presented by DAV (Disabled American Veterans). These races are held to raise money and awareness of the issues that ill and injured veterans race every day. New this year, in order to give back more support to the programs & services that DAV offers, the DAV 5K no longer offered official timing and Veteran Branch of Service T-Shirts. If running a timed/certified course is a must for you then this race won't check those boxes, however it's a great way honor those who served while getting some fitness in. I'd rather see more services offered to our veterans so I think this is a great use of resources on the part of DAV. I also appreciated the transparency.

Pre-race info: This is where race management lost a star. I did not receive a single email from DAV5K after registering for the race. You have to get all the race and packet pickup information from the website/google search. I'm not sure if this was also a cost-saving measure but it made planning for the race a bit annoying, i.e. I only found out there was packet pickup on Friday on that same day. The information on the website was good though.

Race morning - you can park in the paid Piedmont park lot or find street parking. I opted for the paid lot to save time and it was easy ($6). Leaving the parking deck/park area in general was difficult since there are many walkers in the race and the roads were still partially closed when I left.The start area is a 5-10 walk/jog from the parking deck and included free Chik-Fil-A biscuits, coffee, hot chocolate, etc. It was freezing so hot chocolate was amazing. The race ceremonies include a presentation of the colors, pledge of allegiance (that was a first for me at a race), and the national anthem. The motorcycle honor ride starts first, followed by runners (who they tell to start in the front), and then walkers. Everything went off right on time, which was much appreciated on a cold morning.

The race - the course is the 5k loop around Piedmont park which I've run many times. The course would be more fun/pretty if they used the roads/paths inside the park rather than running on the road around the park but it does make for really easy course markings since it's just right turns around the park. There was one water stop and they were handing out whole bottles of water, which is honestly a bit useless if you're running but probably not necessary if you're running a 5k in cold weather anyway. Just something weird imo which loses a star for aid stations.

Overall, I thought the race was well-managed and made for a great recovery 5k for me after several weeks of hard races. It was certainly a great way to celebrate Veterans Day.

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(2018)
"Revel in the awesomeness of Revel Mt. Lemmon!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I've been wanting to do a Revel race for some time now but my work/school schedule and finances kept getting in the way. About a month before the race I realized that work/school actually put me in a position to run Mt. Lemmon as I would already have to be in AZ for a conference and a good friend would be running the half. I flew into Phoenix, rented a car, and drove the easy 90 minutes to Tuscon. I was able to crash in my friend's hotel room (she was excited I was finally able to experience a Revel race - this was her 5th one) so the whole situation was win-win, even if I had just run Marine Corps 6 days earlier; I figured it was worth it to check off another marathon state. Before going into details I'll just say that Revel puts on an amazing race and it's a MUST DO event. I'm confident any of their races will be equally as awesome and I can't wait to do another one myself. Top notch course, top notch management, top notch service.
Expo: for a relatively small race the expo was mighty and awesome. Bib pickup is fast/easy. The race shirts are really nice and you have the option to pick different styles as well. I opted for the standard short sleeve, v-neck, athletic shirt but you can pay a little extra to get different variations including tank, long sleeve, or a soft fashion tee. The quality of all the shirts are very nice. You can also easily switch sizes and/or styles at the expo. After bib and shirt pickup there's the Revel store with tons of awesome swag for purchase. BEWARE: the product and designs are so awesome you'll want to give them all your money! I got a really cozy soft hoodie and a cool chain necklace with the revel logo (a mountain) and "I can do hard things" because...of course. Revel also has an app where you can earn points for registering for races and visiting various booths at the expo. When you accrue enough points you can earn free race registrations, training packages, swag, etc. They also pick people from within the app to win these prizes as raffles. It's definitely a great way to get people excited about all the Revel races and keep people coming back for more; there were many people at the race who were Revel groupies for sure. I know I want to be one. I got a much needed free neck and shoulder massage, had some fun in the photo booth with my friend, and then listened to the Revel coach, Paul, break down the course and strategy in great detail. This was very helpful since I hadn't had much time to consider the course besides 1) it starts at high elevation and 2) involves running downhill for 22-ish miles.
Race morning: Revel races start EARLY. Since they often involve running down mountain roads they bus you up there very early and there's no option to drive yourself or have someone drop you off at the top. The earliest marathon buses for Mt. Lemmon start at Mariposa resort at 4am. Yes, it's early, but the system works well. There's plenty of parking at the resort and then you can sleep on the bus for the hour it takes to get the start, i.e. you don't have to drive yourself up a dark, scary, winding mountain road at 4 am. For Mt. Lemmon this year, the first two bus loads of people were able to stay warm inside the community center at the start, although it did seem like most of the marathoners were able to get in the building. There were some restrooms in the community center and plenty of port-o-johns outside that had no lines. They also had a food truck with coffee and breakfast items for sale. It was around 40 degrees at the top with some wind gusts, but I felt warmer than expected when standing outside, maybe because there is no humidity. One of the great Revel perks is that they include throwaway gloves and heat sheet in your swag bag so you don't have to worry about finding throwaway clothes at home or goodwill before the race. I wore the heat sheet around my legs and had an Atlanta Track Club throwaway warmup jacket over my singlet. I spent most of the waiting inside but when I was outside I was very comfortable. The last buses up the mountain were a bit delayed so we started about 15 minutes late. Since Revel is responsible for getting everyone to the start it's easy for them to just start when everyone gets there so no one had to worry about missing the start, as long as they made it on the bus in time. We started at 6:45am, during a beautiful sunrise.
The course: the first 4 miles are uphill at 8000+ feet elevation. Not gonna lie, this hurt bad. Running at elevation is no joke. However, coach Paul reminded everyone the day before to be patient, after mile 4 it's easy to make up the lost time from the first 4 miles. Everyone has to drop the heat sheets before the start (the metal can mess up your timing chip) and then I shed the gloves and my throwaway jacket by time I reached the top of the 4 mile climb. From mile 4-26 it's a net 5500+ feet loss in elevation, with most miles losing 200-300 feet. If you train for downhill effort you'll fly through those miles. For me, I was not prepared to run downhill for that long so I flew until about the halfway mark and then started to die as my quads failed me. Since I wasn't really trained for this I kind of expected it but was still surprised by how difficult it was. Just take note: yes, downhill marathons can equate to PRs or BQs if you train smart specifically for those conditions, but it's not easy sailing if you're not prepared. It will hurt...a lot. The course itself is spectacularly beautiful. I mean, absolutely stunning. The road is essentially closed so there's no spectators except for the people you see every 2 miles at water stops, so you'll have the whole time just to take in the views and chat with other runners. Bring music if you don't like being alone with your thoughts. Water stops start at mile 3 and come like clockwork after that at every odd mile. Each stop includes water, powerade, and bathrooms. There are 12 stops and about 5 of them include stinger gels and/or fruit as well. The volunteers were really nice and helpful and the stops were always well stocked and staffed. The intervals between water stops made them great places to take a rest from the downhill onslaught and stretch a bit.
On course photos and videos: There are several places along the course where they take pictures and video. These are offered FREE after the race. They actually put together a video montage of your course highlights. I LOVE this added benefit and wish more races would roll photos into the cost of registration. Considering Revel marathons cost between $100 -$120 (pretty standard race pricing) depending on when you register, the amount of swag and services you receive is amazing, especially compared to other races. It's just really top notch service all around and an amazing value.
Post race: free beer (2 beer tickets but they gave us more), free pizza, free french toast (amazing!), music and chilling with other finishers. We basically hung out until they were closing shop and then took the shuttle buses back to our cars. Not much more you can ask for!

Final thoughts: I hope it's pretty clear from this extensive review that Revel Mt. Lemmon (and I suspect their other races as well) is a top notch event, with tons of awesome benefits, stunningly beautiful course, great volunteers, great race management, and a fast course (if you train for it!). I can't think of a reason why you shouldn't do this race.

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(2018)
"OOHRAH! You won't regret running with the Marines!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

When I first registered for Marine Corps it was simply because 1) I wasn't running NYC and 2) I wanted a fall marathon. The timing was right and I knew people loved the race but felt pretty neutral about the whole thing honestly, probably because I've been to DC and it's not my favorite place. Anyway, as the race approached I realized I was getting more and more excited, especially because I finally started having good training runs and I was doing the race with cool people. I went to the race prepared to run a 4:30 marathon but due to some stomach issues and my friend (first time marathoner) having MAJOR stomach issues, this never panned out. However, I LOVED the race as a whole. I'm glad my attitude about the whole thing came around eventually because it was a really fun race and I HIGHLY recommend it. Let's get to some details:
Expo: The expo was great IMO. There are free shuttles from two major metro stops to the convention center so, while no direct metro access, it was still easy to get there. Bib pickup was very easy and organized. The one disappointing this I experienced at first was a surprisingly slow assigned expected finish time which put me in a different corral than my friends. This was the first year they assigned corrals and I guess I didn't put the appropriate finish time when I registered. They flat out refused to change it. I decided to worry about it at the start and hopefully "sneak" into my friend's corral, although I had doubts whether they would be enforcing it anyway. The expo itself was really well organized and had good flow with wide aisles so, unlike other large expos (CHICAGO!) it wasn't nearly as claustrophobic. The key apparel sponsor is Brooks and they have a large store with plenty of extra swag you can buy. I ended up with the jacket and an awesome pair of gloves. There was a ton of nice stuff. Expect to spend $$$.
Swag: the big talk this year was about the AWFUL race shirt. The shirt is always a mock turtleneck (I think it's a marine thing) which is already pretty awful but I expected that. This year however, the shirt design just really sealed the deal of awfulness. Honestly, I don't want a picture of strangers across my chest. I actually used the shirt as my throwaway at the start to keep warm (it is quite cozy in all fairness) but I really wasn't expecting to keep the shirt anyway since I don't keep many race shirts. #SorryNotSorry
I expect there was so many complaints that this won't happen again. The medal, however, is badass and included this year a compartment with a challenge coin. Very cool.

Race morning: The race starts at 7:55 but the metro only opens as early as 6, probably later depending on which stop you use. Honestly, this is pretty sucky on the part of the metro but not much the race can do about it I guess. DC metro is pretty awful/confusing on a good day. We stayed in Alexandria, a few miles from the start, which made for an easy uber ride. We wanted to get there early so we go in an uber by 5:45 and were at the start by 6. We had no issues at this time. We just told the uber to get as close to Pentagon as possible and it worked fine, although you do have to walk probably .5 mile at least to the start area (not too surprising for a large city race though). I suggest planning to get there early and staying in Arlington/Crystal City/Alexandria is probably easier/more direct than staying in DC proper. It sounds like many people who waited for the metro were much more rushed and some people ended up starting after all the corrals had started. Don't do that. Get there early and it won't be an issue.

The start: There are UPS trucks for bag drop, tents to hang out in (including a non-denominational religious service), and tons of potties. However, if the lines at the potties are long in the waiting area, just head up to the start line corrals on the bridge/highway; there's even more potties lining the highway with no waits. As I said before, I was worried about starting with my friends. However, it ended up not being an issue because there was absolutely no enforcement of the corrals when we actually got to the start line so I still started where I wanted. I've been told the corrals were added to stem the fact that people suck at self-seeding. Even with the "corrals" this year, people were still pretty awful at self-seeding and the start is crowded as expected. It's a large race (~30,000 runners) so just expect crowds, especially at the start. The pre-race ceremonies include a skydiving team flying in with an American flag while someone sings the National Anthem. Very cool. One thing I really loved about the start was the line of soldiers in the first mile carrying all the flags of nations represented among participants at the race; 65 countries were represented this year which is something awesome to see at a very American race in the Capitol.

The course: the first 3 miles are net uphill and definitely make for a good warmup. After that I would characterize the course and rolling flats; very manageable. The course itself is beautiful, imo, heading into several awesome neighborhoods including Georgetown, Roslyn, central DC and the mall area, etc. You run by many monuments, Smithsonian museums, the Capitol, etc. It was pretty spectacular. At mile 12 you run the Blue Mile which honors fallen soldier. Several of their photos are accompanied by their family members. There TONS of American flags and it's a pretty emotional/motivating experience, more than I expected.

Support: first off, MARINES! Everywhere. I'd say maybe 75% of volunteers were uniformed Marines with local organizations, boy scout troops, etc, making up the rest. You can't go wrong when everywhere you look is Marines. They make great cheerleaders and aid station volunteers. It's incredibly motivating. I heard later that maybe some of them are actually marched from Quantico the night before for the race but I'm not sure if that's true. Of course, the highlight at the end is receiving the medal from a Marine. I messed up big time though by forgetting to get myself or my friend selfies with "our" medal Marines. Don't make that mistake; get your selfie! The finish is up one last hill to the Iwo Jima memorial which also makes for a great post-race photo spot. Don't miss it!

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