Latest reviews by Andrea Heser

(2019)
"Earn The Bird! Love the MESA-PHX Marathon!"
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This was my 4th time at racing the MESA-PHX Marathon and I’m one medal away from earning my Arizona Copper Star! I represented the race as their Ambassador for the first time this year.

The MESA-PHX Marathon is a highly organized race from their website registration process, social media, expo, race and post race festivities. This is why they sellout. The 2019 full marathon and half marathon distances were sold out! There were available 10k spots on race day.

If you follow them along on social media, especially Instagram and Facebook, you’ll find they communicate well. Tons of updates, discount codes and weekly build-ups on how many weeks/days we have until race day. This momentum got me excited for race day.

Packet pick-up is held only one day at the finish line the day before the race which is always held on a Friday. This is a like a pre-treat of what the finish line will be. There were tons of booths this year, more than last year. People were walking away with lots of good samples to try. The expo bag had full-size jerky and protein bars, fruit & smoothies from Sprouts, sample sized laundry detergent, snack sized chips and crackers. With race registration, you had the option to choose a black tank top or short sleeve tech shirt with the MESA-PHX logo that was reflective. The Altra Racing tent was also there selling lots of their most popular styles — that were open box — for 56% off retail. The packet pick-up process went smoothly, I even volunteered for a while to help the 10k runners.

Race day means you must go to bed early Friday night. Not just to calm your nerves, but because the MESA-PHX is a point-to-point race, you must take a bus to the start line for all of the distances. This is a pain and a blessing. I love point-to-point races because you don’t see the same thing twice. Also, this helps with the downhill-ness factor of this race. There is only 20 feet of elevation gain. Taking the bus means you must get to the finish line parking lot by 5 am to catch the last bus at 5:15 am. The ride to the half marathon starting line took 10 minutes and then we had about an hour to wait for the half to start. It’s cold in Arizona in February. There are 30+ heaters at the half start line but I recommend wearing layers of clothing that you don’t mind donating at the start line. I was smart and bought cheap gloves to donate/ditch a few miles into the race. Also, I bought 6 heatsheets to pass out at the starting line to frozen runners!

At 6:30am the race begins for all runners at all distances. Fireworks were set off and we were off! The start of the race is in the dark. I wore a visor with a light. The roads were good and we didn’t have to deal with potholes. There are lots of police officers on the course and the streets are safely blocked off. I totally felt safe running this race. Since we all start at the same time, if you finish your halves around the 2 hour mark, then the fastest full marathoners will be coming through to pass. The police were good at having the half runners move to the side to allow the fastest runners through. It was exciting to see the fastest runners pass me and pretty much all the half runners were clapping for them. The aid stations were plenty and full of lots of energy. The MESA-PHX has contests for the aid stations so the volunteers that manage them really step it up to show support and excitement for us.

Crossing the finish line is a total treat. The shoot is long and filled with tons of people on either side. The emcee announces everyones name and as you cross someone quickly hands you a medal. After a 400m walk out of the end of the shoot, someone hands you a MESA-PHX hand towel and you could either make your way to the PR bell or the French Toast. There was a bottle neck going into the main booths for runners this year and I think it had something to do with the swag bag hand out process. Maybe people handing out medals should also hand out a swag bag. Since every runner wants their French Toast, the crew at Kneaders started putting the toast on platters and handing it out that way. Very smart of them. The booths at the end were filled with snacks, treats and goodies all full size. My swag bag was filled. It was insanely crowded at all the photo wall stations so I passed all of that up and headed to gear check to pick up my stuff. It was well organized by number and was able to pick up my stuff in minutes.

If you are looking for a well organized, fun race that you could potentially PR at then I recommend the MESA-PHX Marathon. They pride themselves on having a high BQ rate. 26.4% of racers in 2018 qualified for Boston.

Registration for 2020 is now open! Apply code RUNANN10 for $10 off registration fees for the full or half distances: https://thephoenixmarathon.com/

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(2019)
"PR On The RnR Arizona 10k Course"
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The Rock 'n' Roll Arizona races are filled with energy and that's what I most love about them. This was my 3rd year in a row racing their Arizona race, the one that starts their 2019 race year. The past 2 years I ran the 1/2 marathon course and this year I decided to race the 10k because it fit in well with my training plan. There are three top things I loved about the Arizona Rock 'n' Roll 10k: the course itself, the finish line festivities and how well organized the race was overall.

10k Course: I love the many options RnR Arizona gives to their runners. There is a 1-mile, 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon over the course of 3 days to choose from. My initial plan was to do a 3-day Remix Challenge that consisted of the 1-mile on Friday, 5k on Saturday and 10k on Sunday. It didn’t work out in the end, but I didn’t let that get me down. I opted for the Sunday 10k because I wanted to see where I was at my training and I wanted to see if I could PR my 10k time.

The energy throughout the entire race was strong! The 10k and half marathon racers started at the same time on the same start line and shared the course for about 2.5 miles. The 10kers then ran west on Curry Road while the 1/2 runners went north. Once on Curry, we were greeted with a slight downhill and the beautiful view of the Salt River. We ran along the waterfront for about 1 mile. The RnR website says the 10k course is a fast one. Maybe they forgot to mention the hill at mile 4.5 :D. I’ll be honest, seeing that hill concerned me. I kept trucking along and got up it slowly with hopes there would be a downhill for the last part of this race. I was in luck! The last 1.25 was pretty much all downhill and I took advantage of it! The scenery was pretty in this part of the course. We then crossed Tempe Town Lake on the Mill Avenue Bridge. It was awesome! At this point, I had a huge grin on my face and I’m excited to see my race photos. The emcee was calling us all in at the shoot. There were tons of spectators cheering us on. The fastest half marathoners were coming in too which made it even more exciting. The red carpet finish line made me feel like a star. I ran with a 67 second PR over my last 10k I ran last year! And my 10k PR from last year was on an all downhill course. So that tells you I was working it.

Finish line festivities: It was a good little walk from the time you hit stop on your Garmin to the time you got your first glimpse of the band on stage. Along the way, tons of volunteers were handing out chocolate milk, Gatorade Endurance, chips, granola bars, bananas and water bottles. Then a few volunteers at the end passed out RnR drawstring bags to load your loot into. Since I ran the 10k and ran it kinda fast, I noticed there wasn’t a line at the massage tent. This was my chance! I never got a post-race massage before. I quickly signed up and in one minute I was on a table and in another world. The massage therapist asked me exactly what I wanted and I opted for a stretch and quad massage. I was in heaven. The massage was 100% free and it lasted 15 minutes. I recommend the post-race massage to everyone. Once done, I chilled out on the lawn for a bit, updating my Strava, IG and Twitter feeds and giving tons of love to people I follow on social. After I was relaxed a bit, I headed back to my car which was about a 3/4 of a mile walk. It was needed to get my legs moving after that hard 10k.

Excellent organization: I ran this race through BibRave which means I didn’t have to pay for a race entry fee. I did have to pay for parking, gas, and food. On the first day of the expo, I picked up my bib. It was a Friday, a hard work day and week for me and I was fried. Luckily, I found a metered parking spot and put in 50 cents. I had 27 minutes to get my bib and get out of there. In my Oofos, I trotted along and made it to the solutions booth. My name was on a paper saying I was good for any distance I wanted (thanks BibRave!) I told her the 10k and she handed me a paper to fill out. Then I was moved to another woman and then a man. He told me that I could go to the 5k distance if I wanted to. ‘Ok,’ I told him. Got my bib from him and I was out of there back to my car with 7 minutes to spare. Fast forward to Saturday. I looked at my bib because I wanted to do a flat lay. 5k!? I am thinking he thought I said yes to the 5k instead of acknowledging him. Honestly, I panicked. The RnR website start line map did show a solutions booth there on race day. I had to take a chance. Sunday morning I made the 34 mile trek to Tempe to see if RnR could help me. Worst case, I just wouldn’t run the race and get over it because I should have checked my bib as soon as it was handed to me. There wasn’t a line at the booth even though the total event was packed. The woman at the booth didn’t bat an eye at me when I told her my situation. She took my 5k bib, and handed me a 10k one. Whew. I’m so thankful for RnR and the way they handled this for me.

Other key points of perfect organization on the RnR part was providing runners a safe course. There were cones, cops and volunteers everywhere along the course. I felt very safe. There was TONS of free parking and it was easy to find a spot when I arrived at 7:30am which I feel is late considering the race starts at 7:50am. Also, they got people in and out of the shoot so fast. Great organization on the RnR part, just not on mine!

For a gigantic race with tens of thousands of runners, this is one of the best races to start the year with.

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(2018)
"The Sweetest People Watching Race"
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The Hot Chocolate 15k is one of the only 15k races that takes place in Arizona. That makes race day super crowded, super fun and super sweet. I ran this race in 2014 and 2015 and most recently 2018 on December 2.

Pre-race: The people behind the Hot Chocolate brand have one of the most extensive and hype-worthy social media presence out there. If you follow them on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll see they post daily. And that’s a good thing! I was totally hyped up every time I saw their posts push through. Communication on their part was excellent. They let runners know about packet pick-up and how parking will be a struggle on race day. With the Hot Chocolate Scottsdale run, please know to pick up your bib early. I did on the first day as soon as the expo opened. I was in and out quickly and still had time to browse the vendors there.

The jacket this year is incredible. It’s in a lovely, on-trend burgundy color. It’s super lightweight and oh so soft. It has a hoodie and thumb holes and pocket. It’s my favorite Hot Chocolate jacket yet. Yes, I did wear it 2 days in a row and almost wore it work over a dress.

Race day: My alarm was set much earlier than normal and I hit the road knowing the 101 freeway would have closures (I read the email from the Hot Chocolate crew) and that parking will be crowded if I didn’t arrive before 7:15am. I got to the parking lot at 6:45am, there was a long line awaiting us. The volunteers got us through quickly.

My race didn’t start till 8:15am, but the 5k started at 7:30am. I chilled out in my car for a while until my friends arrived. Since the 15k didn’t start for a while, I decided to use the porta potties. This is an area of a missed opportunity. There simply wasn’t enough potties to go around. The lines were about 50 people deep and there were 25 potties. I suggest doubling the amount for next year. Or, maybe take some of the potties from the finish line to the start line. I noticed so many empty potties at the finish.

The corals moved quickly! That was great. And I was off! The course is nice. There are a few out and backs and that’s ok. Those out and backs made it fun to people watch. So many people dress up for the Hot Chocolate and it’s really fantastic to watch everyone. Even I wore a Sparkle Athletic skirt and Christmas tights.

There was tons of water and Nuun at the aid stations. I was grateful for that. I was concerned about the Swedish Fish and gummy bears though. The cold weather made them very hard to bite into and I didn’t want to choke. The marshmallows were perfect. Maybe there could be chocolate flavored marshmallows next year.

The finish line signs were perfect. I loved how a sign said I had 500 meters to go. That made me kick it in high gear. Then 400m to go, 300m, 200m, etc. It was great. I loved how the announcer said my name as I crossed the finish line.

A volunteer quickly gave me a medal and I was off to get my spoils of the finishers chocolate mug. This is the best part really. I chugged my hot chocolate, it was the perfect temperature to do so. And starting eating my goodies after dunking them in melted chocolate.

I noticed tons of empty porta potties and huge blowups to play in or take photos with, but I was tired and wanted to go home.

Exiting the parking lot was simple, it was emptied out quickly and I’m a middle of the pack runner so there was still about 1/2 the 15k’er on course when I left.

Post-race: I love race day photos. Hot Chocolate gives them for FREE. That’s a huge bonus in my book because I will purchase mine. Also, they came the day after the race. I am so thankful for that.

Overall, I encourage you to run the Hot Chocolate Scottsdale 15k once if you haven’t already.

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(2018)
"The Turkey Trot With Heart"
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I never ran a turkey trot before. I know, I know, I’m in the minority here. It’s difficult for me because I have lots to do on Thanksgiving morning and driving to run a race doesn’t fit. Thankful for the opportunity to virtually run the Oakland Turkey Trot through BibRave.

The Bay Area holds a special place in my heart. I lived there for about 4 years. Originally, I was born in Chicago. In 1982, my parents took me to San Jose and lived there till 1986. That is an important reason why chose to run the Oakland Turkey Trot, virtually on Thanksgiving Day. 

The Oakland Turkey Trot partnered with the Oakland Mayor’s Office, Alameda County Community Food Bank, Oakland Public Schools, and local sponsors and charities. 100% of proceeds are going straight back to the Oakland community! This is huge and another reason this was the race I chose for my first turkey trot.

They also had one of the coolest shirts designed and their #feastmode medal is pretty cool. I was impressed with the custom bib I received. See the photo I have attached to see the outfit I ran in on Thanksgiving morning.

I would have loved to actually run in Oakland around Lake Merritt. The course looks so pretty.

It was awesome how responsive Oakland Turkey Trot was on social media, especially Instagram. They posted a ton and liked my posts as well as shared some of posts and IG stories on their stories. It felt good to see that and get acknowledged.

If you want to run a fun turkey trot with a whole lot of heart, then choose the Oakland Turkey Trot.

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(2018)
"💀🔥The Hills Have Thighs 🔥💀"
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Are you in the mood for an October Halloween trick that gives major treat at the same time?
Seriously, the Phoenix Craft Classic is the race you need to sign up for. But, you better be hill training over the summer. Just sayin'! 💀🔥The Hills Have Thighs 🔥💀Bahahahaha!

This is my second year pacing this half marathon and even though it's one heck of a killer 13.1, it's totally worth it. Here are my favorite and most spooky parts:

• Hills • They are HARD! The first 1-3 miles start off as sweet rolling hills around the big fountain of Fountain Hills, AZ. It was on during some parts of the race and it was pretty to see. The hills give you a great veiw of the beautiful scenery! Saguaro and vast mountain ranges can be seen for miles. This view comes with a price though. Miles 4-7.5 are a beast! This is where you get your elevation gain and you'll be glad you hill-trained for this. Then come mile 8 and it's all downhill. But don't get your hopes up high yet. Don't trash your quads either LOL cause on mile 11 the hills are back for the last 2.1 and even though they are small, you'll be tired. Train smart and you will conquer this course!

• Swag • The medal was sweet this year! It's a huge bottle cap with a bottle opener on the end. Also, it has magnets on the back so you can attach for easy access. The design of the t-shirt was modern. You also got a sweet beer-can shaped glass during packet pick-up! If you are into hops, then you'll appricate the cold beer at the finish line. The finish line also included Kind bars, pretzles & cold water.

• Aid Stations • They were the best. They were every 2-3 miles and included GU gels and GU tabs, water and Gatorade as well as peppy volunteers.

• Parking • Was fantastic! It was free and right next to the startline. Like, a 1 minute walk to the start and finish lines. That's a huge deal IMO.

If you want a hard half that gives great swag, scenery and makes you fell proud of yourself, then sign-up for the 2019 Craft Classic.

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