Latest reviews by Jessica Rudd
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.
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.
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.
2020 has become the year of virtual racing but Atlanta Track Club has pulled out all the stops, and safety efforts, to make racing in person possible, fun, unique, and safe! The PNC Atlanta 10 Miler normally runs through midtown Atlanta but, due to COVID restrictions, difficulties with social distancing, lack of city event permits, etc. no large events are taking place in Atlanta (nor should they). Atlanta track club has had to pivot much of their event efforts this year, moving most to virtual and/or "racing by reservation" on private properties. The Atlanta 10 miler was the largest ATC event to get the racing by reservation treatment, allowing people to choose between a new, unique in-person race experience or a virtual experience. This was the first in-person road race experience I've had since March 1 and ATC knocked it out of the park with the PNC Atlanta 10 Miler: Extreme Hill Edition.
- Location: Since mass gathering permits, shutting down public roads, paying for police presence, etc. is not possible at this time, Atlanta Track Club moved the 10 miler to the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in Braselton, GA (about 1 hr northeast of Atlanta). I'm not a fan of driving so far outside the city for an Atlanta-based race, but I couldn't pass up the opportunities to 1) support Atlanta Track Club, 2) race in person, and 3) run around a race track! The road course track meant lots of awesome sweeping turns, and HUGE hills (but this also meant there were some epic downhills!). The track itself, while pretty far outside the city, was easily accessible from a major highway. Since this was a "race by reservation", some friends and I signed up for the 9am start time, so we were able to leave ATL at a reasonable hour, and also not worry so much about running in the cold.
- Pre-race experience: since people were able to sign up for start times between 6:30am and 10:30am, arrival times at the track were staggered so there were no wait times to enter, park, health checks, packet pickup, bathrooms, etc. Upon entering the track, employees gave temperature checks and health waivers to everyone in the car and masks were required at all times on the grounds, except when running. Prerace instructions had requested folks to arrive no more than 45 minutes before their start time. We did end up arriving 90 minutes early but it was no issue. We parked easily, and used the restrooms without waiting in a line. There were no large banks of bathrooms like you normally see at races. Instead, there would be 1-2 bathrooms scattered together around the parking and start area, and on 2 places on the course. No waits since people were arriving at staggered start times. Genius. Before the race we received a google form to fill out declaring we were symptom-free, had not been exposed to someone with COVID within 14 days, etc. The usual questions these days. We showed that form confirmation in order to check-in and get our race number, assigned at check-in. Again, no lines. Next to the check in, they had a small gear store where you could buy the race shirt, ATC masks, etc. The general race registration included the course, timing, medal, swag bag, and snacks. Extra goodies, such as the shirt, could be purchased additionally. I really appreciate this "al la carte" type race experience because many times I do not like the shirt, won't wear it, don't need it, etc. This time, I opted to purchase the shirt because it included the (hopefully) one time only "Extreme Hill Edition" logo. The shirt was also the really nice Mizuno poly-blend material, offered in unisex and women's sizing. We walked to the start line on the track about 15 minutes ahead of time.
- The race experience: Once you crossed onto the track, the checked you in again and confirmed your name and start time. We were there a few minutes early and could have started with an earlier wave but opted to wait a few minutes for our friends to show up so we could start together. Each wave had up to 25 people. The runners lined up at cones in 3 lanes on the track, staggered 6 feet apart of course. It was as if we were little cars lined up to start the race; done out of necessity for social distancing but pretty cute/silly all the same. As someone who is 4'11" and feels very claustrophobic surrounded by folks at the start of races, I very much appreciated this start experience. Each wave started exactly on the 5 minute mark so we were off precisely at 9am.
The course itself was 3 times around the track, 2 long loops which included some extra turns on some inside service roads, and the last lap of the outer course. Since everyone was starting at different times they had a great lane system in place that kept everyone in the correct place of the track depending on their current lap. Basically, you started on the far inside of the track, were in the middle lane for the 2nd lap, and ended up on the far left by the finish. There obviously were no crowds cheering but they had several volunteers placed cheering and directing folks into the correct lanes. Also, you could hear the music and announcers over the PA system from anywhere on the loops. There were a couple port-o-potties scattered on the course, never with a line, and there was a self-serve aid station which we passed around mile 3.5 and 7.
They definitely were not kidding about the "extreme hill edition" but I felt it was actually must faster than expected. Most of the elevation was gained in 2 hills on the front half of the loop, which allowed for some really fast downhills on the second half. I ran up halfway and then fast hiked half of the 2 largest hills and then ran the rest of the course, ending up with a 10 mile PR on what was supposed to be a very difficult course. When we first drove into the track and saw the hills, it was very jarring and we laughed (A LOT) but once I was out there, it was really fun and not nearly as bad as expected (but beauty is in the eye of the beholder lol).
Once finishing the race, there was the typical water and Powerade bottles (again self-serve, with volunteers monitoring but not touching), and then you received the swag bag which was already pre-packed with snacks, medal, and some other goodies. Atlanta Track Club referred to the whole race experience as a "touchless" experience. I would say it was a physically touchless experience with plenty of personal ATC touches.
While I hope we can be back to our regularly scheduled programming for next year's race, this experience was really fun and unique. I hope that once larger races come back (and I hope they do), that these types of touchless, race by reservation experiences are still offered. I think they provide a great opportunity to continue doing what we all love, while providing a low-stress, safe environment. Kudos to Atlanta Track Club for making lemonade out of lemons.
I was so lucky to run Honolulu Marathon this year as a BiBRave Pro. It worked out that my best running friend, Tina, had her 50th birthday on race day so she and her boyfriend decided to make a big trip of it with the marathon starting our Hawai’i adventure. We also did the Merrie Mile (I did not get free registration for that). It’s a bit pricey for a 1 miler but it’s a great little marathon warmup on Saturday before the race. Tons of people are wearing costumes and walking/running with friends, family, little kid, and you get a medal and a little finish festival on the beach. Also, the general field goes at 7 and then once the course if clear they have an elite race where the women start about 30 seconds ahead of the men and the winner (male or female) gets an extra $ bonus. The winner this year (reigning champ I think) did a 3:53 mile. 😲
- the race finish, shuttles to the start, and the Merrie Mile race (day before marathon) all take place in Waikiki so that’s certainly the best place to stay. With over 200 hotels in 1 sq mile, not including air BnBs,there’s plenty of options. We stayed in an AirBnB a few blocks to the beach and the zoo (Race morning shuttles). It made everything really easy, but beware: Waikiki is really busy with terrible traffic. We were kinda amazed how crowded it felt during race weekend and were glad to leave after the race. Don’t stay in Honolulu any longer than you have to.
- there’s a free trolley that stops in several locations around Waikiki and takes you to convention center for expo. The walk wouldn’t be bad either but it’s quite hot and the sun beats down more in O’ahu than any other place I’ve been expect Israel. I spent the few days before race avoiding sun as much as possible and drinking more water and Nuun tablets my bladder could handle. I recommend doing the same. Save the fun for after the race.
- The expo is where you’re really reminded that thus race is a huge destination race for Japanese people. The expo is larger than I expected with some vendors you’ll recognize but many that are unique. In fact, many of the vendors and speakers are only in Japanese. It’s here you really feel like you’re at an international race. It’s very unique and interesting.
- You get the shirt for the Merrie Mile (if you choose to do that) at the expo, and the shirt for the marathon at the finish. You can also buy additional gear from the main swag sponsor, Descente. I’ll say, this is probably my only major negative from the race. I feel the Descente gear, including finisher shirts, are really poor quality. It’s the scratchy low quality tech material and the prints, while nice designs and graphics, are low quality and I imagine will wear off with just a few washes. My friend who was running his first marathon really wanted a finisher jacket but there really wasn’t anything worth buying, especially for the $80 price tag. Again, this is my only big negative point.
- Overall, expo gets a 7/10 for really interesting stuff and very easy to pick up bibs.
- Staying in Waikiki meant a 5 minute walk to the zoo to catch the shuttle buses. PS the race starts at 5am (because it’s hot...have I mentioned that yet?),so we went to shuttles at 3:30. Easy walk, tons of people with a line to get on buses but it moved very fast and was very organized. Easy.
- We arrived at start line by 4:15 allowing for plenty of time to use bathroom. They had tons of port-o-potties at start. However, I recommend using the ones closer to shuttles, further down from start because there was hardly any lines, while lines closer to start were really long.
- You are assigned a start corral based on expected finish time but you can basically self-seed anywhere. I started in my assigned corral closer to start and my friends (who had been assigned more in back) started somewhere in middle. Once the gun goes off there is no staggered start times for corrals; everyone just starts, so if you’re further back I heard it’s quite crowded for the first 4-6 miles. It was crowded at front but still plenty of room to run with no issues.
- The only issue at the start for me was that, while Honolulu marathon is famous for an epic firework show at the start, there was a bit of a snafu and it started 5 minutes after the first few waves started so I could hear it and see it if I turned around. My friends got to see it though, and that’s really all that mattered to me. I can say that it was a proper long show.
- the first 10k or so is through downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. They actually have a start to park10k option where you can start with the marathon field and finish at the park near the main finish area.
- After leaving Waikiki the course winds up and around Diamond Head. It’s a long hill but the most beautiful part of the course. You climb it once around mile 8 and then again at mile 24. The first time will be in the dark/sunrise, the second time will be in direct sun. Take your time and just enjoy the views. I actually enjoyed this part of the course the most.
- The course is mostly flat, low rollers with the big climbs up and back on diamond head. Pretty flat-ish by Atlanta training standards. If not for the heat I would have found this course very fast. If you only train on flat, I recommend some hill training.
- Even at 5am there’s still people out cheering and of course there’s Christmas lights everywhere, which is a cool thing to see in the tropics. A palm tree with Christmas lights is a pretty sweet thing.
- The first 2 water stops are about 2 miles apart and have only water I think. After that, the water stops are within 1.5 miles of each other with water and Gatorade performance. Even in the heat, the water and Powerade were always cold or cool-ish, never gross and warm.
- Most of the stops have a potties (I had to use several but never had to wait), first aid (plenty of opportunity to reapply vaseline - you’ll need a lot in the heat and humidity).
- Later stops also had water sprayers, sponges, and tons of ice. Yes, it’s a hot race but the course and volunteers seem well equipped to keep people as cool as possible. Many participants walk the entire race (there’s no cutoff time really) and are out in the hot sun for many hours. I felt the race did a good job keeping people safe in those conditions. Still, if you’re a walker be warned: you will bake. The lack of cutoff may be tempting but don’t be lulled into thinking you can fake it through this race. You can’t. Be smart and respect the distance and conditions.
- Gels were offered at several stops and there were extra goodies offered by spectators. I got banana ice cream, pretzels, and oranges.
- I planned to run as much as I could before sunrise. I ran comfortably the first half and only walked at water stops. Made it through first half before sunrise and then switched to a 3:1 walk run the second half to account for rising heat and eventual time in sun. Luckily, I only ended up in direct sun for about the last 10k but, as I said before, most people walk this race and would have been in direct, not a cloud in the sky, sunlight for many hours. Plan accordingly. The intervals allowed me to maintain a solid pace and only run about 5 minutes slower in the second half, including more picture stops and FaceTiming with my parents.
- One final thing that impressed me on course was the number of photo locations. There were race photographers all over the place with huge signs so plenty of spots to try to get a great shot. I actually got good race photos for once.
- nice long finisher straightaway, which probably feels much longer in the sun. You get a really nice medal and a shell necklace.
- Just past finish line are nice cold showers to rinse. Awesome!
- Water and bananas in finish chute.
- After finish, you make your way to a large finish festival area with t-shirts and the best of all, MALASADAS! These are a local Portuguese style donut and they make them fresh right at the finish area. YUM!
Overall, I really enjoyed this tropical, international feeling race. Train well, be prepared for the heat, and manage your pace and time expectations well and you’ll enjoy it too!