Latest reviews by Jessica Rudd

(2016)
"Cross the state with 1000 of your (new) closest friends"
Overall
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As cyclists, my husband and I have heard about BRAG for some time now. It was only a matter of time before we decided to use one of our few summer vacation weeks to cross Georgia by bike. Each year the course is different so waiting for the right route was really key for us. Earlier this year we realized the 2016 route was leaving from Atlanta, a few miles from our house, and heading to Savannah; this seemed like the year to do it!

Even though we're both strong cyclists, we were both worried about being on the bike for 50-70 miles, 7 days in a row, and camping for a whole week. However, our worries were quickly diminished. From day 1, we met amazing people, pedaled through a quiet Atlanta morning to beautiful farm country, and figured out a good routine for setting up and taking down our camp area each day. In fact, we opted to camp inside, usually in school gyms, each day since they provided AC and we didn't have to bother with breaking down a tent each morning. Ear plugs and eye masks are a must if you decide to do indoor camping. Also, I only had a light sleep sack and I wish I had my full sleeping bag since the AC in many places made me freeze each night. Still, I'd rather be cold than hot and sweaty in a humid, cramped tent.

My husband and I really liked having a vacation where we got good exercise but still had relaxing time each afternoon. It was the perfect combination for people who don't just like sitting, eating, and drinking for a whole vacation. Instead, we got to ride our bikes, eat, and drink. :-)

Pros:
-Check in and expo: I had to do this myself since my husband was transporting the car to the finish but this was generally pretty easy. Also, the expo had some cool vendors including a nutrition/gel I had never tried, a bike themed jewelry shop, and my friends at the Atlanta Cycling Festival. They also had several bands that night (and every night of the week) and the camp area that night was right next to a large shopping center with restaurants, grocery store, and any other last minute items needed
-Parking: We chose the option to transport our car to the finish in Savannah where they had free parking for the week at the convention center. It was really nice to have our own car once we made it to Savannah and then we were able to spend an extra night in the city. At the beginning of the week, BRAG had a shuttle from Savannah to ATL for people who opted for this.
-Camping options: indoor and outdoor options at each location, and all the indoor options had AC, which is not typically guaranteed (maybe we just got lucky this year). Each location also had a beer truck, live music, games, shower truck, and sometimes a shuttle into town for food/shopping
-Routes: all routes were well marked and rest stops were between 10-20 miles apart, usually with 3-4 per day. Rest stops were well stocked with fruit, pb&j, packaged snacks, pickles, water, Gatorade

Cons:
-It was HOT and there were no ice anywhere to be found. I wish they had ice at the rest stops and at the finish each day. It would be really cool if they had a few of the plastic kiddie pools filled with ice at the end each day. Easy and cheap for some good ice baths after some really hot/humid mornings of riding.
-Food options: They advertised there would be food trucks at each location but, really, we were lucky if there was one truck at each location. Some of the schools had pasta dinners, which were very good, but it would have been nice to have more options or better access into towns (some places had shuttles but in Dublin you had to take a taxi for $5 each way per person. That's $20 for me and my husband just to get to Walmart.). We brought our own breakfast and lunch so it wasn't terrible for us, but it would have been nice on some evenings to have a better time finding food. If you have specific food requirements (veggie, allergies, etc), this ride might be difficult for you if they don't improve this. I definitely think it's something they can easily change in the years to come.

Overall, this was a GREAT experience and we loved it! We will definitely be doing this ride, and other vacations like it, in the future.

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(2016)
"Best worst marathon ever! (Seriously the best; the worst part was the weather)"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Course Scenery
Expo Quality
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About 25 people traveled together from Atlanta for this epic race weekend. Our group participated in a broad combination of the available races (1 mile, 5k,10k, half, full) with about a dozen completing the marathon (and 2 first timers!). I knew this was going to be an amazing race weeks before we even arrived. The communication was excellent, the people are gracious, and the events are class act.

Expo: Perfect size and not too crowded. Some cool vendors I haven't seen at other expos and the race swag is awesome. Since I have a ton or race shirts, I bought a flying pig bike jersey. Cool to have something different. The organization of packet pickup was done really well. The only weird/funny part is that the t-shirt pickup is on the opposite side of the expo, effectively making you walk through the "gift shop" to get there.
Swag: really nice race shirts (including women's specific sizes), medals for all the races and extra bling if you complete one of the challenges, poster, nice embroidered duffle bag, flying pig head wrap
Communication: website, app, and twitter accounts kept up to date and responsive, especially since there was risk of bad weather
Start line: corrals A-H each with their own porto-potties (nice!), school buses for bag drop (you drop your bag at the bus window corresponding to your bib number, live music. Crowds were kinda thick for the first few miles but you could still run without running too many people over
Course: BEAUTIFUL. The first few miles you go over 3 bridges and the views of downtown Cincy during the sunrise were epic. We were treated to several rainbows along the way. They tell you that the only real hill is the monster up Eden Park between miles 6-9. This is a significant climb that takes place in 3 sections with short flats in between. However, while the course is a net downhill from there, it does so over rolling terrain. The course is hilly but the neighborhoods are beautiful. Don't expect it to go easy after the climb ends at mile 9 basically.
Aid stations: Holy aid stations, batman! Water/Gatorade at least every mile (I'm pretty sure some were closer than that), with random food stations in between. There's a ton of interesting food on the course including: oranges, fig newtons, twizzlers, bacon, graham crackers, jelly beans, cheezits, etc. That's just what I can remember. It was a blazing hot and humid day but we never ran out of water or sports drink. In the later miles they handed out ice, wet towels, tissues

It was a pretty rough day considering the heat and humidity, but the race itself was magnificent. My favorite race of all time (even compared to NYC). Several of us plan to make this a regular trip.

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(2016)
"Beautiful backdrop for a beautiful race"
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If you're gonna challenge yourself to a half Ironman best to do it in an amazing town for adventures. Chattanooga provides a beautiful backdrop to distract from the pain and suffering, while also providing more amazing volunteers than I've seen at any other race in any other city. The rolling bike course is pretty fast with only one real gear grinder, and while the run course is pretty hilly there's plenty of fun aid stations and pretty sections along the river and over bridges.

Pros:
-Check in: Just follow the arrows through the multi step process and the whole process goes smoothly. No lines and I was in and out in 5 minutes.
-You have to check your bike in the night before the race so no need to worry about it in the morning. One less thing to lug around on early race morning
-Expo has plenty of local vendors but I didn't spend much time walking around - again lots of friendly, helpful people
-Swag: really nice shirt, and sling bag with some extra goodies and coupons. After the race you get a nice medal, of course, and a hat.
-Race morning: lots of volunteers so you don't have to wait for body marking. Head into transition and set up your area. There are volunteers walking around who can help you if you're not sure how to set up. Dozens of school buses waiting at transition to take participants to the swim start so you don't have to wait.
-Swim start: first come, first served. After the pros, everyone else just lines up. No crazy mass starts. The whole process moves very fast.
-Swim: river swim under 3 cool bridges. It's nice seeing downtown from the river and, for the most part, people spread out so you're not getting kicked in the head too much.
-Wetsuit strippers: I didn't wear a wetsuit this year but the strippers are really helpful for getting that thing off.
-Bike course: BEAUTIFUL. I could have stayed on my bike all day I think riding around that countryside. I will say, the pack never really thins out much so people do end up drafting a bit, even though most people are not doing it on purpose. There's not a lot of course marshals regulating this behavior but, honestly, I don't think there's much anyone could do anyway.
-Run: I'm used to running the terrain in Chatt but I know this is a difficult course for many. The bike course gets 3 star difficulty but the run pushes it to 4. It's a 2 loop course so all the hills you see the first time, you'll get to see them again. The aid stations on the run course are the best. There's some school groups and church groups mostly and they all have different fun themes. I particularly liked the aid Hawaiian themed aid station. Each station has water, Gatorade, ice cups, oranges/chips/pretzels/gels, coke, first aid/vasoline, port-o-johns, and they're all within 1 - 1.5 miles each. You can definitely do the run without carrying hydration.

Cons: I wasn't a fan of the finish area this year or last. The food offered is dominoes pizza (yuck) with some chips, pretzels and diverse drink options. I just wish they had something else besides greasy food. After a race my stomach is already pretty messed up so eating crappy pizza isn't really the best plan imho. However, Chattanooga has no shortage of great food and drink options right near the race area in downtown.

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(2016)
"Fun relay with some bumps in the road"
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The United Relay (www.unitedrelay.org) is a 3 course relay from the west coast (Seattle, San Francisco, LA) to NYC, sponsored by AfterShokz, in partnership with over a dozen charity organizations. Joining a stage cost $50, and a group stage cost $25, plus you could set additional fundraising goals. I had the opportunity to run the relay with BibRave. I allocated my registration fee to The Trevor Project and opted not to fundraise because I'm already part of 2 other fundraisers this year. They offered a free, with $5 shipping, cotton t-shirt. I opted out since I have enough t-shirts. You can also order tech shirts (which I also do not need).
I initially signed up for stage 252 from Piedmont Park to Kensington Station near Decatur. I was nervous about this stage because it was scheduled to start at 1am and I had to make the route myself. It also became clear that I would be running alone since I had no crew able to join me at that time of night. Additionally, the staff emailed me a few weeks before my stage to ask if I could run additional stages. At first I was unable to commit to this because I could not miss a whole day of work. However, United Relay eventually allowed cyclists to complete stages as well. I was then able to volunteer as a cyclist for 5 additional stages, 244-248. This route was 51 miles from Cedartown to Smyrna on the Silver Comet trail. Since I was able to complete this on my bike I was able to start the relay later in the afternoon, and staying on the Silver Comet path meant I would not have to create my own route.
Luckily, I was able to arrange for a friend to shuttle me and my bike from the end of the route to my starting point in Cedartown. I started riding at 4:45 and arrived in Smyrna at 8:28, just in time for the next leg. It was really tough but I had a nice time seeing the countryside roll by.
After passing off the baton I grabbed a quick bite (McDonald's fries FTW!) and drove to Kensington station, the end of my nighttime leg. I was able to take MARTA to midtown to meet Samantha at Piedmont Park for her leg around the park. I was then able to complete my last leg back to the MARTA station, another 9 miles, arriving at 12:30.
It was definitely a long day, and I wish the logistics of the Relay had been better, but overall I'm glad to have been part of an epic cross country relay for a good cause. The support staff, Joel and Sarah, were doing a great job and had to complete most of the relay themselves since the Blue Route did not have a lot of participation. I think this had to do with some poor planning (this is the first time they did the big, 3 route relay) and the fact that it was a continuous relay; IMO they should have scheduled the rely from sun up to sundown with rests at night so there would have been better participation, especially in big cities like Atlanta (the Blue relay came through ATL only late at night ).
I think many of these issues are part of the growing process of such a large relay and will be mitigated in the future. I'll be glad to take part next year.

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(2016)
"Fun, technical single track; beautiful views"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
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Parking/Access
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After slogging through some ultra distance trail events this winter, I was looking for a fun mid distance trail. Falling on Easter weekend (and we would be in Chattanooga already for that) the River Gorge race was the perfect event. Since I planned this race late it was already sold out when I went to register; however, they had a wait list option and I was pulled off that list in less than 24 hours. It was even more exciting to find that the weather forecast was perfect! Clear skies, 45 at the start, up to 60. Yay!

Pros:
- Easy race morning check in. They also had check in at a local running store on Friday night.
- Awesome, moderately technical single track trail with sweeping views of the Tennessee River valley. Running along the ridgelline looking into the valley = magnificent.
- Rolling hills, mostly runnable. There were 2 sections where I hiked, including a mile long rock garden that was gnarly but pretty cool.
- 2 aid stations at miles 3.6 and 6.8, so carrying one bottle was plenty. Moderate faire including water, sports drink, Gu's/chomps, oranges. For a 1 miler this was plenty.
-Free race photos from TrueSpeedPhoto!
- Race shirt is gender specific!

Cons:
- In one part of the race documentation the start time was listed as 8:30 instead of 8 so there was some confusion. They started the race 10 minutes late to account for this, as well as long lines at the port-o-potties.

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