Latest reviews by Jessica Rudd

(2015)
"Challenging race worth making a yearly tradition!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This event has turned into a real yearly powerhouse. It's a great lead-up to the Atlanta Half on Thanksgiving, and provides a fun challenge for all involved. This year they even had the official Cardiac Hill Challenge, a 1 mile stretch at mile 7. Not only do participants get a total race time, they also get a separate time up Cardiac Hill. This is a really nice measure of training and improvement, especially if you've been focusing on some hill and speedwork. The fastest 100 people up the hill get a commemorative mug. Very cool even though I'm no where near fast enough...yet!

A few things to note:
-This course is very challenging if you haven't been hill training. Around every turn felt like a new hill. This race is arguably more difficult than the actual Atlanta Half on Thanksgiving. This also means it's a GREAT training race leading up to the half.
-Parking at Atlantic Station can be a nightmare. Plan to get there at least 1.5 hr in advance. Whatever time you think you need to be there, get there even earlier. As long as you plan appropriately I don't think it's a problem. In the past, there has been a lot of traffic getting in and out of AS. I arrived very early to volunteer so I scored a very good parking spot. It was also very easy for me to leave at the finish. However, many participants this year did not have the same luck. It's an issue that the track club is working on and also gave participants fair warning about the situation.
-Swag: the medal and shirt are both really nice. The ATC now works exclusively with Mizuno so the quality of product is very good. Unfortunately, the sizing is still a work in progress. ATC is trying to make consistent sizing throughout all their races but that has led to oversized unisex shirts. Many women need to trade into a smaller size this year, myself included.

HAPPY RUNNING! HF#8431 MM#11875

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(2015)
"Are we there yet? Stop worrying and start to pace!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

My friend asked me to help her pace the 5:45 pace team at 7 Bridges. Even though I raced Chicago the week before I felt that the 5:45 pace would be fun and, selfishly, a great way for me to qualify for Marathon Maniacs. Also, I LOVE Chattanooga and any excuse to run there is good enough for me. I heard good things about this race so, all around, it felt like a good idea.
Honestly, it was a great idea. The course is great with rolling terrain. I took off 1 star due to a few miles on highway type roads with some off camber running (which I hate); this was pretty minor though. Also, there was an abundance of aid on this course. Water stops were advertised for every mile but it honestly felt like there were even more than that. The stops were small but had everything needed: water, Gatorade, gels, bananas, oranges, pickle juice, and very nice volunteers. You can easily run this race without carrying anything.
The race shirt and medal are really nice. The medal is HUGE! I don't race for medals but it was still a nice improvement over the lame medal I got the week earlier in Chicago. Sometimes small races do the best job with swag and this race was no exception.
I have to take off 1 star for race management. While the marathon was well managed and our mile markers were perfect (which was very helpful for our pacing), the half marathon was accidentally cut short (due to miscommunication maybe? I've only been able to see the comments on FB from angry people so the story may be skewed) by half mile. I have a feeling this is an issue that will be easily resolved and will not happen again.
Overall, I had a great race experience. The weather was amazing. Clear sunny sky, 40 at the start and went up to 60 degrees with a bit of wind, but nothing terrible. At the 5:45 pace we were joined by several first-time marathoners. If you ever have the opportunity to pace a race I highly recommend it; bringing people on their first 26.2 journey is a privilege and makes for a fun experience.

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(2015)
"Off-road duathlon - there's a first time for everything."
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
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I started mountain biking with my husband this spring and this was our chance to actually go to a race together for the first time in a couple years. It was a new experience for both of us but something that we'll definitely try again in the future.

Race morning: packet pickup was offered during the week at a running store in Woodstock but since we don't live anywhere near there we opted for race morning pickup. We arrived at 6:45 which allowed us to get a coveted spot in the parking lot right next to the transition area. The parking area only fits 40 cars so this was a great advantage for arriving early. If you don't get there early there's 2 overflow lots up the road leading into the park. This was clearly stated in the pre-event emails and racers were encouraged to pack transition bags so they could just ride their bikes down the road to the park (since car drop-offs were not allowed). It didn't seem like anyone had a problem with this but, as I said, we got a good parking spot in the park. The pre-race meeting wasn't until 8:20 so we just set up some camp chairs and brewed hot tea while we waited.

As with most trail events, the event was low key. There were a couple tents from local shops as well as a massage tent and live timing tent. The park doesn't have any permanent bathrooms so there was a small bank of port-o-johns. Once you check in, you put a number plate on your bike (this is where the timing chip is located), and a bib on your shirt, and rack your bike anywhere you'd like in the transition area. This was probably the only part that was confusing to me because I'm used to triathlon transition areas where you have an assigned rack based on your number. Also, there were no volunteers in transition area so if you had questions or needed help during the race (which I did later), you were on your own. This is why I took a star from race management and aid stations.

Once you get your transition area in order you just wait until the pre-race meeting. The RD went over some basic rules, etiquette, order of events (the race categories went off in waves after the 5k trail race), and sponsors. Honestly, all of the information could have been done in 5 minutes but she was really long-winded and it took over 25 minutes. My husband and I wanted to listen to everything because we were first-timers, so this was really frustrating. We felt like there was no information in the meeting that we didn't already know.

The Race: both of us were in the beginners category so we started in wave 5, the last wave. Each wave had about 30 riders. Everyone was courteous at the start and it seemed like we all had good positions in the first mile. The first bike loop was on a fast, non-technical course so everyone spread out easily. This was well-planned since the second bike loop was on the more technical side of the park, with narrower trails, but everyone was already spaced out at that point so passing wasn't an issue later in the race. In fact, I rode most of the second bike loop by myself. The first 5.5. mile loop was on the Mill trails, which I consider beginner trails. Any obstacles were clearly marked and had ride arounds. The trails were wide enough for easy passing and the climbs were moderate. The second 5.5 mile loop was on the Avalanche trails, which are considered intermediate. The trails here are more narrow, have a lot more rocks/root elements, and some gnarly climbs. Considering this section also came at the end of the race, after a 5k trail run as well, it was particularly difficult. However, a more experienced rider, like my husband, would still consider this section pretty tame. Regardless, the park has great trails and the race really is great for a first timer. The 5k trail in the middle was non-technical, very runnable trail. Coming off the bike it did take a bout 1/2 mile for my legs to feel ok though. This is the same course for the stand-alone trail run. If you're considering a trail race I think this run course is also great for first-timers in that area. There was 1 small aid station on the run course with water and gu, no sports drink (boo). Also, and this is typical, no aid stations on the bike course so you need to carry your own fuel.

Overall: I had a great time and worked by butt off to finish this experience. If you've never tried it, mountain biking is a full body workout and I work really hard to get through it. I also had a technical issue that made the whole experience really difficult and borderline miserable at points. About 2/3 through my first bike loop the bolt on my saddle popped. I was carrying a multi tool and tried to tighten it but it kept coming loose, so I rode to the rest of the loop to transition in the standing position. After I finished the run leg I found some expert riders who finished already who helped me get it tightened (even they had some difficulty so I felt slightly better about myself). However, by time we got it tightened the saddle position was completely wrong, with the nose pointed upwards. For anyone who rides, you know this is really uncomfortable. Add this to the fact that the second bike loop had a lot for steep climbs and was more difficult, and I was pretty beat up by time I reached the finish. After mentally regrouping at the finish, I was really glad that I finished. I think with some more riding experience I can do better and have a more enjoyable experience next time around. Looking forward to it!

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(2015)
"A great destination race!"
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I'd like to run all the Marathon Majors, so after running NYC in 2013 I set my sights on Chicago. My husband and I have never been to Chicago and the date happened to coincide with our 1 year anniversary so what better reason to visit this beautiful city??
Chicago is a beautiful big city with a small town personality. Everyone is very laid back and friendly and I think this translates to the race as well, Even though it's a huge race (40,000+ runners) I never felt overwhelmed. Everything seemed very organized and calm.
The expo is a little off the beaten path in that it;s not easily accessible by transit. However, there were several shuttle locations near the race hotels so we just took the train to one of the hotels and then the shuttle down to the expo. We never had to drive anywhere but I think there was convenient parking at the expo center as well. The expo itself was one of the largest I've seen but very nicely organized. We got there early on the first day so I'm not sure if the lines were very long on Saturday. I showed my confirmation to someone who entered it in a computer and then told me to head to line 18 (out of 22?). Before I made it to my designated check in there was a crowd of people blocking my way. However, the gentleman at table 18 saw me and yelled 'Jessica, over here!' I guess once you do the initial check in they send your info to the packet pickup people so they're expecting you. Nice touch! Again, just very friendly, helpful people. Yay for midwesterners.
The expo became kind of crowded the longer we were there but the aisles were nice and wide so it didn't feel too claustrophobic. I hate hectic crowds so this was nice for me. The North Face and Nike were the two big stores where people bought most of their race paraphanalia. I opted for the Nike finishers jacket. Overpriced for sure (as expected) but that's the one item I promised myself I could get (since I never got a finishers jacket in NYC).
Race Day: We were staying about 20 minutes outside of downtown so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to get to the start (gotta beat those potty lines!). I arrived at 6 and it was still really quiet so there were no lines for security, bag check, or potties. By 7:15 it was crowded though and I waited in a long but fast moving line for one more potty break.
I walked to my corral and found my pace group. It was a beautiful morning, if not a bit windy. Wave 2 started at 8am and our corral crossed the start about 15 minutes later. It was quite crowded but everyone was moving. I was warned about this and tried my best not to weave around people. Just relax and keep the pace sign in sight. There's a blue tangeant line painted on the ground for the elites to follow and this helps stay on the shortest course, especially since Chicago has a ridiculous amount of turns. Despite my best efforts, by the halfway mark my garmin was half mile ahead of the mile markers. Oh well. Also, it just wasn't my day so I fell off my pace group and switched to intervals. However, Chicago is a great city and course to just have a good time. Once I switched my game plan and decided just to have fun this was an easy task. Only other downside? It was 75 degrees by the time I finished, probably accounting partially for my less than stellar performance. I think it nearly reached 80 for the day. That's a seriously hot race, especially on asphault in an urban environment with little tree cover. Oh well.
At the last turn at mile 26 they had course monitors pulling anyone without a bib off course. Word to the wise, if you wear layers at the start make sure you put your bib on your base layer so you don't accidentally dump you bib. I saw some people fall into this trap and they couldn't finish. Bummer.
There were a lot of first time marathoners around me at the finish so there were a lot of tears. I always get a little emotional at the finish, but when people around me start crying it really sets me off with the water works. Happy tears after a hot race!
The course wasn't pancake flat as I expected; there were some small hills, mostly over the bridges, and then the hill up one block right at mile 26. Still nothing compared to Atlanta. Should be a great PR course if the conditions are better.
After the race grabbed some water, snack bag, medal, and check bag pretty quickly and then used one of their changing tents to put on dry clothes (considering how salty I felt, I'm so glad I brought dry clothes and sandals - highly recommended). Finally met my husband at the family meetup and we left right away, so we didn't stay for the post-race party. They did have a band playing though, and there was beer.
Ended my day with a picture at the bean and then a Chicago style dog at Portillos. Great day!

Cons: The only con I would say is the medal this year. They put the iconic Chicago bean sculpture and this doesn't really translate to medal form. It just looks like a kidney. Bad.

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(2015)
"(Not so)Hotlanta Half, aka "Wetlanta""
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The second year of this race highlighted that this can be a great annual tradition, regardless of weather conditions. The race is sponsored by Big Peach Running Co and run by Orion Racing. Considering Big Peach is an exceptional running store with exceptional staff, it’s no surprise they put on a solid race. About a month before the race I ran a group run course preview at Big Peach just to get a long run in without doing it alone. The route was challenging but the organizers were enthusiastic and offered a registration discount in store. I decided to jump on the opportunity and use the race as a training run for my fall marathons.
The website and email correspondence leading up to the race were simple, clear, and provided all the necessary information without being spammed. They offered 5 days of packet pickup, rotating around town to the various Big Peach locations. They ONLY offered race day packet pickup for an extra fee of $15; 100% of this fee went to the various beneficiaries of the race. Even though participants represented 30 states, I’d still consider this a small, local race. As with smaller races, there was no expo. However, Big Peach had discounts available during packet pickup which is pretty much the same benefit you get at an expo anyway.
Race day arrived and the first major plus was the location of the start/finish area. Last year the race started at Underground Atlanta. Anyone from the area knows that it is not worth visiting the Underground. The new start area at Pemberton Place in Centennial Olympic Park is easily accessible via public transportation and there are plenty of paid parking options due to several popular attractions in the area (World of Coke, GA Aquarium, Center for Civil Rights). At the last minute I opted to drive downtown and paid $7 to park directly next to the pre-race area. MARTA costs $5 round-trip so the extra $2 was well worth it, especially considering how the weather turned.
The second plus for the day, which definitely earned an extra star, was the fact that there were real public toilets as well as port-o-potties available. The public toilets in Centennial Park are really well-maintained and we never waited more than 5 minutes. For those of us who like to use the toilet a few times before a race (just in case!), this was an awesome perk. Runners’ bibs were assigned to 5 different corrals. However, it was an open corral system so you could start anywhere you needed, i.e. with a chosen pace group. Pace teams were available in 15 increments and staffed by the awesome Big Peach staff. 15 minutes before the start they had a fun group warmup and then everyone placed themselves in the start chute. They did the national anthem, and then a countdown to an on-time start.
The course: After a short downhill through the start, the pack turns right and immediately up a long, steady hill. It was a quick reminder that not only is running in August in Georgia difficult, but adding the many hills of Atlanta makes it even more fun. The course was challenging, with the first 5 miles providing some long climbs. The second half of the course is still hilly but slightly less challenging. The course took you through some nice Atlanta highlights including, Turner Field, Old 4th Ward, the Beltline, Piedmont Park, and Ga Tech. Aid stations are at every mile, with Nuun sports drink at every other station. Nuun is a high quality electrolyte drink and not too strong on the taste. I’m very impressed they offered this instead of the typical, sugary alternatives. Bravo for that. Also, several aid stations provided Huma gels. Huma is a really tasty gel with a nice consistency. Again, better than what’s typically offered in races. Quality stuff. Finally, about halfway through the race they had PowerIce, awesome ice pops with electrolytes! These things are amazing, especially during hot races. Even though we didn’t have the expected heat it was still a refreshing treat.
Now’s a great time to talk about the amazing volunteers. Each hydration station was manned by volunteers from the local non-profits that benefited from race proceeds. They were well-organized, helpful, and enthusiastic. Despite thunder, and monsoon-like conditions for most of the race, these volunteers were high energy the entire time. Running with bricks of water on your feet is never easy but the awesome course support from volunteers and some brave spectators made the experience fun rather than miserable. Honestly, a cool summer storm was much more enjoyable than the expected heat and humidity. A race that’s still fun in spite of difficult conditions is impressive.
Back at the finish I collected the largest half marathon medal I’ve ever seen, a bottle of water, and a bagel. Due to the weather conditions they canceled the awards ceremony and most people, myself included, left immediately. I’m normally not a fan of driving to races, but having my car so close to the finish allowed me to dry off quickly and change before heading home.
Nicely done Big Peach. I think you’ve created another yearly race tradition.

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