Latest reviews by Jessica Rudd

(2019)
"Run like MADD through a stadium sized finish!"
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T-Shirts/SWAG
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Course Scenery
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Parking/Access
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Atlanta Track Club MERCEDES-BENZ STADIUM 5K/WALK LIKE MADD is an awesome 5k experience not to be missed. The rolling hills 5k around downtown Atlanta with a finish on the 50 yard line in the incredible Mercedes Benz stadium is a great experience.

Pre-Race:
- There's a bib pickup option at Atlanta Track Club offices 7am - 4pm Friday before the race. I recommend using this option if your schedule permits. It's not a huge expo or anything (it's still a local 5k after all) but there's ATC items for sale as well as discounted Mizuno footwear. Picking your stuff up on Friday also means you don't have to worry about getting to the race start early to wait in line for your number.
Race start:
-I ran to the start from my house so race access for me is very easy. However, there's also easy MARTA access (I ended up taking the train home) and paid parking all around the downtown and stadium area. Leave time to park and walk from your car if needed.
-If you don't take advantage of Friday number pickup, you'll have to wait in line on race morning. Normally this isn't an issue, but since it was quite cold this year (2019) it seemed like a lot of people waited until the last minute to show up so the pickup lines were very long and still going after the start went off. That's a participant mistake, and not race management issue, in my opinion. Get there early folks!
Race:
A loop around downtown, past Centennial Park, and up through Castelberry Hill. Some ups, some down, typical Atlanta hills.
Finish: In the last 0.1 mile you turn into the underground entrance of the stadium, run through the team arch onto the field and finish at the 50 yard line. Falcons cheerleaders, Freddie Falcon and Freddie Jr. cheering you on. It's pretty cool. There's drinks and snack boxes at the finish and you can chill in the stadium seats and enjoy the view of the field, halo board, iris roof (an engineering marvel). etc.

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(2019)
"A hot half through Chicago"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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General thoughts: This was my second Rock N Roll race and I think it’s a well-managed race, and a good option to consider for first time half-marathoners and/or race-cation. Chicago is a fun place to visit and a great place to run.
Expo, bib pickup, swag: I’m not a fan of expos (too crowded) but I thought this one was a nice medium size, lots of space, not too crowded so it was enjoyable. The Brook’s merchandise store is full of great stuff, including the really cool tie dye shoe, which I nearly bought but this poor grad student managed to have some self-control. It seems that Rock N Roll has finally updated it’s shirt designs, with the Chicago races (5k, 10k, half) having some cute, quirky designs involving some famous Chicago food, i.e. pizza and hotdogs. Seems like an improvement from the past where the shirts from every city basically looked the same. There’s also the option for a women’s specific fit, so that’s nice.
Location: Chicago is awesome and all the races start/finish in Grant Park area, right in the loop downtown. If you stay in a hotel in the loop (we stayed in the Marriott Residence Inn) then it’s easy to walk to the start.
Start area: Most important, there were plenty of port-o-johns. Even though you’ll have a wave assigned on your bib there is absolutely no security so you can really go to any corral, I think. That is, if you can even get in the corrals. The corrals are extremely overcrowded and many of us were left outside the barricades until the race started and we could squeeze our way into the crowd.
Aid Stations: The first one was shortly after mile 1 and then every 2 miles or so after that. Most of them had just water, but maybe half also had Gatorade. The volunteers were great and doing the best they could, but it was hot/humid and I think they were understaffed and overwhelmed. I saw SiS energy gels (these are great btw) at one station but I think they were actually at two. In addition, due to the heat and humidity, there were several stations that had bags of ice, cold sponges, and sprayers. I was feeling sick during the race; I think due to getting heat sick the day before at the baseball game. I tried stopping at medical twice for help and they basically told me they were too busy, and I should just keep walking to the next station. This is pretty unacceptable IMO but I managed.
Course: running through Chicago is cool but this race had so many turns. At most times I really had no idea where I was. Also, for a Rock N Roll race, there was not that much music. I never run with headphones, but I was glad I grabbed mine this time because most of the race was pretty quiet. Not much music and not many spectators. Also, the course goes over bridges many times. These are draw bridges where the surface is basically just a metal grate. When I ran Chicago marathon a few years ago the bridges were covered in carpet for the runners; not so in Rock N Roll. It’s a pretty terrible surface to run on and, apparently, I get vertigo when I can see straight down to the water below. I ended up walking each bridge.
Finish: At the expo and during the race there were several signs advertising the chocolate milk that would be at the finish. I LOVE chocolate milk after a race and the thought of this pretty much carried me through most of the race. I finished in 2:15 (not fast but definitely not slow) and there was no chocolate milk left. WTF?! Food pickings at the end were pretty slim in general but I guess not much different from many races, i.e. bananas, chips, etc. I was just hoping a big race like Rock N Roll would have better post-race options.

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