Latest reviews by Jessica Rudd

(2021)
"First Grandma's Marathon; hopefully not the last! "
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After being a virtual only event in 2020, Grandma's Marathon returned to Duluth, Minnesota this year and I was so excited to finally check this extremely well-rated race off my bucket list.

Pre-race:
I found out I would run Grandma's in October, 2020 (as long as we got through COVID). From the moment I registered, the information from race management was steady, clear, and painted a great picture for what was to come. Early on we knew that, if the race was able to proceed, it would be set at half-capacity and strong COVID protocols would be in place. In spite of what was sure to be a less than normal race experience, it was clear that the race would still live up to its BibRave 100 best in the nation status. In fact, the race did not officially have permits to proceed until about a month before race date, but the regular communication from management made it clear that they were working with local officials extensively and they expected race to move forward as best as possible. When the green light finally arrived, more and more key aspects of the race seemed to fall into place. Events that were initially expected not to take place due to COVID, like the pasta dinner, post race party, etc., were reinstated and it seemed as if we would get to experience a relatively "normal", if not a bit smaller version of Grandma's.

Starting around Christmas, a monthly "Grandma's podcast" was released each month with great history of the race, interviews with important race personalities and locals. Listening to the podcast gives a great sense for the love and energy around this race, and it made me feel almost as if I had already been to Duluth. I highly recommend listening to the episodes to get excited about the race and the community.

Travel:
I opted to fly all the way into Duluth regional airport (connecting in Minneapolis). While it's slightly more expensive, saving on the high cost of rental car more than made up for the difference and helped me avoid driving several hours alone late at night. I was able to work a full day in Atlanta, get on an evening flight, and get to Duluth by midnight.

Since Duluth is a pretty small town there's not a ton of hotel options but the race does a good job of listing various options on the site. If you want to save some $ you can actually stay in the dorms at the various local universities, although I suspect it's better to have access to a car if you do that. The race offers multiple race day shuttle options from common housing locations around town, including the universities. Much like the convenience of flying into Duluth, I decided to spend a bit more $ and stay at the Fairfield Inn Waterfront (a Marriott property) which is within .5 mile from the finish area, expo, and race day transportation pickups. It was definitely worth the money to be that close to all the action. The hotel included breakfast in the stay and they also gave goodie bags to all the runners staying there. On race morning, they left out coffee and snacks extra early (before the normal breakfast time) for those of us leaving for the race start. Staying there was very comfortable and made everything much less stressful.

Expo:
I worked from the hotel on Friday and went to the expo Friday afternoon. The expo was larger with more vendors than I expected. The whole weekend I kept having the sense that this was "the biggest small race I had been to." Even though Grandma's is a "small town" race (this year there were less than 3000 marathoners - which is half the norm), everything about the race had a large race feeling. Just very top notch. The expo was nice and spread out, plenty of space between booths, and plenty of walking space; even pre-COVID, expos gave me a bit of anxiety so I really appreciated this. Packet pickup was every easy, taking less than 5 minutes. We received our finisher shirt at the expo but normally you'd get the shirt at the finish line. This was done in an effort to reduce touch points in the race.

I met another BibRave Pro at the expo and we opted to go to the pre-race past dinner (something I normally never do at races). The $14 dinner was a great value, the food was yummy (basic spaghetti, meatballs if you want, tomato sauce, bread, salad), and I was really excited it included Americone Dream for dessert, my favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor.

Race morning:
There are several shuttle bus location options around town. However, I was most excited for the option to take the train to the start. There is a scenic railway that serves as one of the transportation options if you're running the marathon (half marathoners start at the halfway point of the course and cannot take the train). I love trains so this was a no-brainer choice for me. The train starts boarding around 5:30 and leaves at 6. It has limited capacity (~1000 people) so getting there early may be important; since this year the race was half capacity, it did not seem to be an issue. I'm not sure if during a "normal" year it fills up but I'd still recommend getting there by 5:30 to ensure a space in case you really want to ride the train. The train follows the course along the Lake Superior coastline up to the startline at Two Harbours. It's a really comfy, beautiful ride and took about an hour. I think the buses are faster and may allow you the time to sleep in a bit, but who sleeps before a race anyway??

Once off the train, the start area consists of hundreds of port-o-johns. While there were lines, everything moved quickly. Just before 7:45 race start time was the national anthem and a flyover (very cool and unexpected). Rather than a wave start, everyone was funneled into individual lines leading to the start line, and it was a rolling start, i.e. you basically kept walking towards the start line and once you crossed, you started. I like this method because it was pretty low stress and kept the first mile more spread out than a normal start experience.

The course:
The course is advertised as flat and fast. In my opinion, it's more like gently rolling hills. The course is actually net downhill, but the rolling hills break everything up nicely. This is my favorite kind of course. The train followed us for a while and blew the whistle periodically to cheer us on. This was really cool in the first few miles especially since this was the quietest part of the course with little spectators.

The first aid station came at mile 3. After that, the aid stations came at least every 2 miles. The stations themselves were very well organized with gatorade, followed by water, followed by self-fill stations (to refill your own bottles if needed), and everything very well-marked. The stations were located on both sides of the road. I also noticed bathrooms and medical at most, if not all, of the stops.

The miles are marked with giant yellow balloons which, since this was a straight line point to point course, you could often see from at least half a mile away. They became really nice motivation markers. The early parts of the course are pretty quiet, except for at the aid stations. As you get closer to Duluth though things start to pick up, with more and more people lining the course, often right in front of their homes. The first of only a few turns in the course comes around mile 22. Shortly after that you cross a digital mat that which triggers personalized videos for you (if you had friends/submit any) to play on a big screen along the course. It was so fun to see friendly faces pop up for me, especially since I had been struggling before that.

From that point, it's pretty much all downhill as you make a few more turns through downtown Duluth, around the expo building, along the waterfront, and into the finish area. The finish line was really fun, and the volunteers were a great help. The finish line food felt a bit sparse, but I heard that was due to COVID, especially since the post-race party was held in a completely different location this year. I stretched for a bit, got my head back on straight, and made it back to my hotel with just a short 0.5 mile walk. It was nice to be able to clean up before heading back out to the post-race festivities.

Swag:
The medal is really nice, and quite heavy. I really like the shirt; it's a technical v-neck that actually fits well. There was extra race gear you could buy but nothing that really excited me. I ended up buying a shirt from the local Duluth Running Company instead, as well as a cool staff shirt from the bar/restaurant located right at the finish line.

After missing in-person events for a year and half, Grandma's was a great return to the marathon distance for me. I really loved the town, the people, and the whole race experience felt top notch. I'm already working on getting a group of folks from Atlanta to go next year. Please consider putting this race on your must-do list. It sells out every year, so get in early!

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(2021)
"Making your virtual miles matter"
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Race Management
SWAG
Virtual Support

I first heard about this event and the organizer, Native Women Running, when I heard founder Verna Volker on the BibRave Podcast. I have always been moved, and outraged, by the dark history of treatment (and current treatment) of our Native population and wanted to find ways to be better informed, and help amplify the voices of the population. I learned a lot listening to the podcast and also learned about the MMIW National Day of Awareness. The event was created to show support/solidarity for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, 2-Spirits, and their families. For example, the CDC reports that murder is the third leading cause of death among Native American women. The virtual run is actually a virtual event to raise awareness using ANY form of fitness/activity. Myself and several other BibRave Pros chose to run at least 10 miles (I incorporated it into my 16 mile training run) to raise awareness that Native Women are murdered at 10x the rate of the national average. The event this year raised over $30,000 for organizations that focus on supporting awareness, support, and campaigns to end this epidemic of violence.
Some other great aspects of the National Day of Awareness MMIW Virtual Run:
- Great social media interaction from the race organizer and supporting organizations meant that I heard from so many new voices and stories, and learned more every day about this issue. I feel like I now have more language and tools to continue to make sure this issue is not silenced.
- Swag just included an amazing, soft, red t-shirt, with very little other waste, meaning funds raised are allocated to more areas of need, rather than wasted on too much random product.

I will plan to take part in this event in future years and highly recommend it for others, even just for the aspect of learning more, and having more people informed about this issue.

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(2021)
"Small town race with all the zoomies!"
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My friend invited me to this downhill half marathon and since I had 16 miles on my marathon training schedule I figured it would be good timing to mix things up a bit. This was also my first in-person "post" Covid race outside of an Atlanta Track Club race. Considering I'm now fully vaccinated I felt safe heading outside my ATL Track Club comfort zone.

Packet pickup: we drove up Saturday afternoon (1.5 hrs from Atlanta) and headed straight to the packet pickup at the town park (also where the finish and post-race party would be the next day). Plenty of free parking right next to the park. I'm pretty sure it was the RD handing out bibs and t-shirts at the check-in. It took less than a minute, but we spent a few extra minutes talking to the RD about the morning schedule, logistics, course, etc. He pointed to the top of the mountain where we'd be starting and we got excited! We did not see a lot of masks whether inside or outside during our stay and race experience, but there were only a couple times where we were in closer than comfortable proximity to groups of strangers. We wore masks as much as possible at the race and where we stayed in Dalton, whether inside or out; areas outside of metro Atlanta have much higher rates of vaccine hesitancy so it seemed like an easy way to be safe while still enjoying the area.

Pre-race: Chatsworth is a very small town so we stayed 25 min drive away in Dalton (carpet capital of the world). Dalton is right off I-75 so it's very easy access from Atlanta, and has more food options; some options in a cute main street area, plus the regular chain family restaurants in abundance. Nothing great, but it's manageable.

Race morning: once again, easy 25 min drive to the start and plenty of parking at the finish area. They had a line of school buses for driving runners to the start at the top of the mountain. In a pre-race email they had asked for folks to spread out into buses assigned by alphabetical last name, however, it seemed that no one really did this on race morning. My friends and I split the difference with our last names and got on a 6:15 am bus, which was surprisingly full. This was probably the only time I was "COVID uncomfortable" due to the enclosed space and more than a small group of strangers. It seemed that most people were wearing masks on the bus though. We arrived at the top around 6:30 and everyone huddled behind the port-o-johns to break from the wind lol. It was weird but also oddly convenient, and there were no lines if you actually needed to use the bathroom. At 7am I warmed up for about 1 mile and we had a gun start at 7:30.

The course: while the course is a downhill course, the first 5+ miles are actually a loop on top of the mountain where you actually have to run 2+ miles down the mountain, back up to the start, and then back down, with a few large hills in there. I ran fast on the downhills and then had to hike 2 of the large, steep uphills. So, the first 5 miles are actually pretty difficult. Once you pass about mile 5.5 you're headed downhill for real...and I mean DOWNHILL. The average downhill grade at that point is between 7-10%. The race highly recommends training for downhill running and I very much agree with this. Luckily my regular strength training comes in handy and I felt very good for this. I ran 1.5-2 minutes per mile faster than my normal pace on this section. It was really fun and beautiful. Gorgeous mountain views. They also had 2 photographers on course (True Speed Photo) taking free race photos. I LOVE free race photos! The course bottoms out around mile 12 and then it's a normal rolling course for the last mile. However, after bombing down that mountain and spinning my legs at epic speeds, hitting that "normal" section felt more like hitting a wall. It was really surprising, but my "engine" was just about out of gas lol. Terrain I'd normally be able to run no problem forced me to take a few quick walk breaks just to get my breathing under control. However, I managed to push through and make it to the finish line with an epic PR (1:48). Even with the huge net downhill, I don't think a PR is a guaranteed thing if you're not prepared for this type of course. Just something to keep in mind.

Finish: we received a medal (it's really nice imo) and water at the finish. They had super yummy BBQ and beer, as well as massage tent (which I happily used before sitting in a car for a long drive home). The timing tent printed out your finish results right away. Overall, I found it to be a great little race, fun morning, well organized, and a good re-entry back into in-person racing. I think I'll look forward to doing this one again.

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(2021)
"Virtually still an awesome experience!"
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I ran Hot Chocolate 15k Atlanta for the 4th time thanks to being a BibRave Pro. After taking last year off from the race, this year was a bit different of course due to COVID restrictions. In spite of this being a virtual race experience, and many people people feeling virtual race fatigue, there were definitely some positive aspects of the race being virtual this year:

- Run on your own schedule. This is especially key given the weather has been highly variable, and often terrible, for the Atlanta Hot Chocolate race. The virtual race option lets folks decide a wide window when they'll run and adjust according to schedule and, of course, the weather. I ran on the "real" race date since it was my birthday and the weather was lovely.
- Run your own route. I'm luck since I live in Atlanta and very close to the actual HC ATL course. However, the virtual option lets folks roll out of bed and run wherever their heart desires, even if that means virtually running through the streets of Atlanta from your home across the country. Why not?!
- Swag. I think this goes without saying, but the Hot Chocolate series has really done a great job setting themselves apart with amazing swag. This year was no different. I received my swag bag about a week before what would have been the real race date. It included a medal with a cool hidden chocolate compartment, extra pieces of chocolate, 2 packets of hot chocolate, and the zip up hoodie. The hoodie this year is really nice, fits great, and my husband pointed out that it looked great. Bonus points!

* I'm sure everyone will be glad to race in person in the near future, but I hope these races keep virtual options available to allow more people to take part on their own schedules and from closer to home.

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(2020)
"Honoring a Running Industry Great on the Roads, Tracks, and Trails"
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Virtual Support

I never had the pleasure of meeting Tony Banovich, but I can think of no better way to honor the memory of such a loved running community legend than to run in his honor. I've been really glad to participate in the virtual run as a way to support Tony's loved Missoula community, keep motivated through the some cold, dark winter days and holidays, and honor his memory. Participants had from 11/12 to 12/31 to run 4.35 miles, the average daily distance of Tony’s 1,731 day run streak. All proceeds from the event will be donated To Run Wild Missoula, the organization near and dear to Tony’s heart. I’ve decided to add a personal challenge by averaging Tony’s daily mileage for the event period, 217.5 miles in 50 days. Registration is $35 and includes a commemorative pin, donated by Ashworth Awards, embossed with Banovich’s signature email send-off – “See you on the roads, tracks, and trails.” I'll be really happy to participate in this virtual challenge for years to come, and hope to make my way to Missoula one day and experience everything Tony loved about that community.

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