Latest reviews by Jessica Rudd

(2016)
"A fun themed, fast, Peachtree qualifer"
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The Hearts & Soles is part of the Atlanta Track Club Grand Prix series. It's free for members and only $10 for non-members. If you're looking for a fun local event, that's known to be fast for some good PRs and Peachtree qualifying times, this is the race for you.

Pros:
- Free!
- Easy parking at GA Perimeter College
- Race morning packet pickup and race day registration
- Costume contest
-Team based contest, best combined times in various age/gender categories
-There's 1 hill (down on the way out, up on the way back) which allows for a speedy first half and a solid PR if you don't kill yourself in that fast first half (I PRd by 1min30sec)
-Bagels, donuts, coffee, snacks at the finish. 1 aid station with water.
Cons:
-Since this is part of the free grand prix race series, there is no swag (the kids race gets little medallions I think). I don't really think of this as a con considering it's only a 5k and it's FREE.
-Course is an out and back through a boring neighborhood past a middle school. Not much to write home about.

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(2016)
"Low key marathon fun run! "
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Sweetwater Creek State Park is a popular stomping ground for Atlanta area trail runners. However, if you're looking for some less known/used trails in the park, the Yeti Heartbreaker is for you! River views, mill ruins, and a hidden lake all within 20 minutes of downtown Atlanta. The race is a great first trail marathon due to it's low key nature, easy access, and really friendly volunteers. A few hiccups during the day didn't deter from an overall positive experience.

Pros:
- 20 minutes from downtown Atlanta
- Packet pickup inside the visitors center with access to real bathrooms, a warm meeting room to leave your gear and hang out before the start.
- Double figure 8 course with single aid station in the middle of the figure 8. Really easy to refuel, don't have to carry a lot of gear, opportunity to use the bathroom every 5-6 miles.
- Only 50 runners!
- Nice shirts with several color choices
- Heart shaped bibs and "medals"
- Challenging hilly course but not technical. Good for first timers.

Cons:
- Course markings somewhat confusing. A group of us got lost after missing markings that were somewhat off trail. We accidentally cut off 1 mile of the first loop. When we came around the second time (after clarifying where we messed up) we found the markings but they were off the naturally occurring flow of the trail and no tape to block runners from going the wrong way. Not a big deal but it was definitely a case of poor markings, rather than runners not paying attention. No one was truly upset about it and we found our way the second time thru.

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(2016)
"Yearly tradition for trail lovers and newbies"
Overall
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If you've never done a trail race and are looking for a new challenge, this is the race for you. If you're a trail veteran who wants a spectacular morning in the woods, this is the race for you.

Pros:
-Terrain: non technical single track trail great for the first-timer. Nice views of the lake. It's very run-able and the elevation is not bad compared to most trail races. If it's your first time on trail know that you'll probably get some good hiking in a few sections but nothing crazy.
-Swag: they gave nice gloves for many years but switched it up this year to a cool hoodie. Yay hoodies! You also get a reusable pint cup at the finish (it's plastic which is way better than glass for days on the trail).
-Aid stations: one thing that new trail runners have to get used to is the seeming lack of aid stations compared to road races. However, Red Top has an abundance of well-stocked aid every 3ish miles.
-Post race food: beer, veggie chili, she-crab soup, oversized cookies, hot chocolate galore. Yum!

Cons:
-Registration: registration opens in November and ALWAYS sells out within minutes. I set my alarm every year. I heard a rumor that they may go to lottery, which I think is kinda sad but maybe necessary. I think they should try a number transfer system first before moving to lottery. Every year there's people who can't run but there's no way to transfer their number to someone else. This seems like a loss to me given there's always people begging to get into the race.

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(2016)
"Best/most beautiful 50 miler in the Southeast"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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It's the 2nd year that RunBum tours has done this race and I've been there both years. I'll be back next year! It's a great, very 'runnable' course with average elevation change for a trail race. Some minor climbs in the first45 miles. The last bit is when you have to go to the bottom of the canyon and then climb out 1000ish stairs. I actually got cut just before the last bit into the canyon, which is one of the reasons I'll definitely be back next year. There are a couple awesome waterfalls at the bottom that make the climb back out worth it (I've climbed down there in the past). January weather in north Georgia is very variable (15 degrees last year, 45 this year), but the people, terrain, views, make it a must-do event.

Pros:
-Easy drive from Atlanta, and just 30 minutes from downtown Chattanooga. We stopped in Chatt for dinner the night before the race, and stopped there again for brunch on the way home on Sunday
-Group bunk lodge right at the start line. There's room for about 50 people in the group lodge at the start finish area. It's a basic bunk house with heat, bathrooms, hot water. For $50 for the whole weekend it's so worth it! We met awesome people, rolled out of bed at 4 am for a 5am start right outside the door. No driving up dark park roads at 0'dark thirty necessary. Showered and chilled after the race, and left at our leisure on Sunday morning.
People. The best volunteers and aid stations. As soon as you arrive at an aid station at least one, and usually several, volunteers immediately ask you what you need, help you fill water, hand you food. So motivating.
Course. You start in the dark and it stays that way for nearly 3 hours. There's something so amazing about seeing the line of headlamps bob up the trail. Once day breaks, even this year with clouds and fog, the course is still beautiful and we still had views into the canyon. Nice terrain and not too technical.
Swag. Cool tshirt, and a pint glass with plenty of beer and awesome BBQ the finish

Cons:
-I still haven't finished all 50 (my problem alone and something I plan to remedy next year)
-If you're looking for a race with exact mileage this (and pretty much any trail race) is not for you. All posted mileages and aid station locations are approximate. I can hardly count this as a con. It's more of a warning to any newbs. Your garmin data won't be exact (mine was as much as 2-3 miles off). Deal with it.

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(2016)
"Sweeter than expected"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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I'll be completely honest, I'm not a huge fan of for-profit "gimmicky" races. The few that I've done in the past have felt overpriced and underwhelming. I knew a lot of people running Hot Chocolate this year so I went in with an open mind and was happily surprised. Overall, this is a very well managed event (Ram Racing does a great job) and they did a great job supporting all types of runners, in spite of some weather related difficulties this year. I will definitely run this race again.

Pros:
- Communication: As soon as I registered I received about 1 email a week with very clear, helpful information such as training plans (nice bonus!), how to apply for priority waves, race day travel info, etc. As the event got closer the frequency of emails increased but it never felt like spam. Also, when weather created difficulties with the expo and changes on race morning, we received very timely communication regarding these changes.
-Swag: of course the Hot Chocolate jacket is a favorite every year. I really liked the material and color this year. Also, in the past I've heard sizing was an issue but this year everything was true to size. Also, at the expo they had a swag try on/swap area where you could try on different sizes before opening your swag bag. My only complaint is that I wish the jacket had thumbholes.
-Aid Stations: really nice volunteers who were out in the below freezing temps. I was impressed that they kept the aid stations pretty clear without ice buildup. I was extremely impressed that they had Nuun on the course instead of the typical sugary sports drink. I consider this very classy. They also had M&M's and marshmallows at the aid stations of course, but I saved those for closer to the end. Most races of this length don't have snacks on course (it's really not necessary) but considering the theme of the event I thought this was a nice tough.
-Course: I love running through different ATL neighborhoods
-Medal: I don't race for medals but if you do then you'll definitely like this medal (only for the 15k). It's shaped like chocolate bar and is city specific. I did enjoy getting something a little different from the norm.
-Chocolate bowl: It was freezing but my hot chocolate was still hot. #Win
-FREE RACE PHOTOS! No more $20 for a crappy digital photo.

Cons/plan accordingly:
-Expo: I'll say this is more of a disappointment then a con. Due to impending weather A LOT of people tried to go to expo early on Friday. There was an around-the-block line just to get in the expo hall. However, this was to mitigate the crowd inside the expo hall and I felt it was very well managed and a good plan given the situation. My disappointment stems from the fact that the expo was surprisingly small considering the size of the event; less than a dozen vendors. However, it was well organized and all the volunteers were very patient and helpful.
-Parking/access: Again, this is less of a con and more of a "plan accordingly." I did not buy a parking pass because I planned to take MARTA. When it was clear that race morning was going to be below freezing I had second thoughts on standing outside for an hour and tried to get a parking pass. It was not clear how to buy one online though after you already registered, and even once buying online you had to pick it up at the expo. The line to buy/pickup parking passes at the expo was very long and I had already waited on line to get inside the expo in the first place. Luckily my friend dropped me off at the start line about 30 minutes prior to start and I took MARTA back to my car after the race. I did hear that parking race morning was backed up, they re-directed a lot of people, and they weren't even checking parking passes. There should be a way to buy and print your parking pass online to avoid expo lines.
-Course: I actually really liked the course, as stated above, but beware that it's a very hilly course. Train accordingly and love those hills!

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