Latest reviews by Jessica Rudd

(2017)
"Suburban Atlanta Trail Getaway"
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I've tried to do this race for several years but this was the first time my schedule finally cooperated. This is one of the most popular races in the Xterra Georgia race series, and is organized by the fabulous folks at Dirty Spokes Productions. The half marathon is one loop of mostly rolling, single track mountain bike trails around Fort Yargo State Park. The full is 2 loops. I'm not a big fan of loop courses but it's a big enough course to not feel repetitive. My legs were feeling quite heavy from lots of long training runs lately, so I was definitely feeling a exhausted and unmotivated going into the second lap. However, I was lucky to fall into pace with another runner and we chatted most of the second lap, making it seem considerably faster and easier than the first time around.

Pros:
- Easy parking access, with plenty of port-o-potties and a few permanent park restrooms available.
- Coffee and some other goodies at the starth
- Friendly volunteers and easy check-in; swag bag includes a nice long-sleeve tech shirt
- Rolling, non-technical course; great if you're considering a first trail half or full marathon
- Medals; most trail races don't give medals so if you're into that sort of thing you'll be happier at an Xterra event
- Bag lunch; marathoners get a bag lunch when they cross the finish with PB&J, cookies, chocolate, and pringles. Nice combination of salty sweet for after a race and really convenient for my drive home.

Cons:
- Start waves; the full marathon starts at 8 with the half starting at 8:30. I get this is supposed to spread participants out but many of the elite half runners just run the slower marathoners over when they caught up. I had to move off the trail and stop running several times to let them pass.
- Aid stations; trail races typically have awesome aid stations with a great food/snack selection. This race had 3 aid stations on course, only 1 with sports drink and gels. The other 2 were just water. If you're used to the epic aid station fare of other trail races, you'll be very disappointed here. With that being said, carrying your own nutrition is always recommended anyway.

Overall: I really liked this race and will plan to add it to my yearly rotation, although I'll probably due the half in the future in order to avoid another 2 loop course. I think the management was great, with great volunteers, but it could definitely use some aid station upgrades. Give it a shot if you want an easy access trail half or full marathon in the Atlanta area.

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(2017)
"Still my favorite race, even with weather-related modifications"
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For my full race report head to: https://funsizeathleteblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/cloudland-canyon-50-35ish-the-frozen-chosen-edition/

This year's race had a repeat of year 1 with temps topping out in the low 20s and clear skies. We had the added fun of snow and ice this year which led to a delayed 8am start and cutting out 15ish miles at the request of the park service and local EMS. When many other races in the region were canceled due to weather, race director Sean "Run Bum" Blanton managed to make a great day out of a potential bad situation.

In the future, this race will be changed to half marathon and 50k options, and you bet I'll be there! I highly recommend the $50 bunkhouse option. You get to stay right at the start/finish line with kitchen and hot shower access. It makes for a very easy and comfortable weekend trail running retreat. Plus, you get to meet a lot of other runners.

You can't go wrong with this race: beautiful scenery, rolling, non-technical trails (minus the final rocky jaunt around the canyon), great volunteers and aid stations, yummy food at the finish. This is a southern annual classic for me.

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(2017)
"Second time, double the fun. "
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This was my second year running Hot Chocolate Atlanta as BibRave Pro. There were a few huge improvements over last year's race that made this year great.
1) Location change. It's only a few miles away from the original start/finish area, but Centennial Park is much more accessible via public transit and generally a nicer place to start than Turner Field. There's several public bathroom locations around the park, plus the port-o-potties put out by the race so that alone kind of makes things nicer. I noticed there were a TON of potties this year and zero lines. Someone pointed out to me that this may have been leftover from the Women's March the day before, rather than race management. Regardless, it was amazing.
2) Swag: the chocolate bowl and medal were the same, but the jacket was definitely an upgrade. It's softer than last year, has a hood and thumb holes, and it's super flattering. I'll actually wear this one!
3) Expo: last year the expo was extremely crowded and there was a long line just to get inside. This year, it was much more calm, plenty of space, no lines, and I think they had more vendors. Besides navigating through the hoards of cheerleaders who also happened to be at the convention center, this was a stress free expo.

Even though the start location changed the course was similar to last year, with lots of rolling hills. Hill training is a must but know, for every uphill you get a nice downhill. I ran a 4 minutes PR over last year's race. I take one star off of aid stations because, while the chocolate and marshmallows are fun, it would be nice to have some normal race snacks as well. A gu or a pack of power beans would suffice. That said, the race runs through a variety of cool Atlanta neighborhoods, has great swag, and the management is spectacular. A must run at least once. I hope to be back next year!

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(2016)
"The best race on earth!"
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There were over 51,000 finishers this year and you noticed it! It was like riding a wave of energy for 26.2 miles. This was my second NYC Marathon but I feel like I had a much better experience because I knew what to expect and could enjoy it. The people and the energy of the city really make this an unrivaled race. Every runner must do this at least once!

Expo: it's huge and can get crowded. We flew in early this year and made it close to opening on Thursday morning. I highly recommend doing this if you can because they had all the clothing sizes available and there were no lines. Also, there's a lot of walking involved, so arriving in NY on Saturday and heading to the expo isn't a great plan the day before the race; you'll definitely be tired for race day if you do that.
Start: I was a charity runner this year and we had a private bus from the Plaza Hotel. It wasn't much different from taking the official race bus from Bryant Park (what I did in 2013), except we were allowed to stay on the bus for several hours at the start, rather than waiting outside. We walked from the bus to the start about 90 minutes before our start time. There were no lines for security or bathrooms. There's also plenty of bathrooms in the start corrals so you have multiple opportunities.
Race: the start is pretty crowded over the bridge, but it's an uphill start for the first mile so you don't need to go fast anyway. I made up over a minute coming down the bridge in the second mile. The first half marathon is in Brooklyn, mostly a straight, relatively flat shot down 4th Ave. The crowds and music are awesome. The second bridge sends you into Queens for less than 2 miles, an area that's pretty uneventful.
Then you head onto the Queensboro Bridge. The first mile of the bridge is uphill and it sucks; this is mile 15 afterall. There's no spectators allowed on the bridge but it's nice having a bit of quiet in the middle of the race and just enjoy it with other runners and a few NYPD officers. You come downhill off the bridge and make a uturn onto 1st Ave in Manhattan at mile 16+. This part of the race is epic. The crowds are intense and you can literally see a wave of runners for miles down 1st Ave.
4th bridge sends you into the Bronx at mile 19.5 and the last bridge back into Manhattan comes around mile 21. There was a large group of spectators chanting "last damn bridge!" and it was highly entertaining. The bridges are no joke! NYC may seem flat but this is not an easy course; I usually describe it to people as "tricky". You're best not to bank time in the first half because you'll be hurting from that in the second half. Start conservative and save your energy for the second half. The last 5 miles in Manhattan are the hilliest part of the race, so be prepared!
Finish: This was my 11th road marathon and I still got very emotional at the finish. Tons of screaming fans, the course lined with the flags of all the nations represented at the race, a finishers chute that feels like you're in the Olympics. It's all amazing. The walk out of the finishers area is long, probably about a mile even if you take the poncho option. They do give you a heat sheet at the finish line regardless of your baggage option. Then you grab your medal, food, drink, pics, and head either towards baggage trucks or ponchos, depending on what you chose at registration. I HIGHLY recommend the poncho option. You have to walk much further for the baggage trucks and the ponchos are really cozy!

Post race: find a hotel or AirBnB near the Central Park. It's very difficult to get a cab or Uber after the race so being able to walk back home is a must!

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(2016)
"Even better than last year!"
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2nd year running/volunteering and I took nearly 14 minutes off my time! This race is really fun, even if it's extremely hilly for a road 10 miler. Eat some hills for breakfast! The Cardiac Hill Challenge, the one mile race within a race at mile 7, is a really awesome touch. I'm still not fast enough to break the top 100 for the hill challenge but I did better than last year and it's awesome to see some friends earn their top 100 mug. Do some hill training and add this race, as part of the Triple Peach of course, to your yearly to-do list.

Notes:
- get there at least 1.5 hours early. There's plenty of parking but the roads getting into the parking decks get very backed up closer to race time. Also, I've noticed long bathroom lines both years (as a volunteer, we get a separate bathroom area as a great perk)
- If I haven't already mentioned, it's hilly. The 10 Miler is overall more difficult than the Atlanta Half on Thanksgiving
- Do this race as part of the Triple Peach: Peachtree 10k, Atlanta 10 Miler, Atlanta Half Marathon

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