Latest reviews by Karen Poole

(2015)
"Best in the NW!"
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I ran the Portland Half Marathon. 13.1 miles through downtown Portland and along the waterfront. I hadn’t trained too well and was running this race more to enjoy Portland than to go for a PR. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous.

I flew in Friday and hit up the expo with my parents. It was great to see so many vendors around. The expo is huge! It is one of the best that I have seen. I met a few friends and explored the expo. Then went over to Foot Traffic and scored some free socks! Runners can never have too many socks.

After the expo we headed home for an evening of family time in Salem, Oregon. Saturday evening we headed up to Portland to check into our hotel – the Marriott Portland City Center. It was a very nice hotel with excellent space and amenities and as an added bonus – was right near the race start and finish line. There isn't much parking at the start, so it is best to stay in a hotel.

I laid out my race kit the night before and prepped for the big race. The hotel’s fitness center had foam rollers so I got a chance to roll out both before and after the race. Then I went to bed around 10:30 and after a fitful night of sleep I woke up around 6am.

I sleepily got all my race gear on. (Thanks for the pre-race prep photo mom!) And we walked to the start just 15 minutes before the race began. For Portland – the race weather was perfect. It was just in the 50’s and 60’s during the entire half marathon. There is always a chance of rain and storms in Portland in October, so I definitely got lucky picking this year to race.

The race itself got off to a good start right at 7am. The course wound through downtown and then down by the waterfront. It showed gorgeous views of the city and there was lots of fun entertainment on course – from pirates to drummers, bands and cheer squads.

Most of the race went by without too much difficulty. I started slow because of my weak training and paced myself fairly well. All in all, I surprised myself with a time of 2:04 – far from my best but not too shabby either.

I have to say this was a very well run race and I would definitely like to do it again. I might even venture into doing the full 26.2 someday. If you’re looking for a great fall race, this is it!

Post race we headed to The Old Spaghetti Factory for a good old carb load and race replenishment. And of course, when a friend gave me a pass to the Nike Company Store, I could not say no to a little tax-free shopping at Nike! Portland – I love you. Thanks for a great adventure.

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(2015)
"Great, Flat Course through Napa"
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Despite my fear going into the Zooma Napa Valley Half Marathon that I would crash and burn around mile 8, last weekend’s first half of 2015 actually went surprisingly well. I ran faster than I anticipated and almost 10 minutes faster than last year.

One of the good things about running a race where you already know the course is that you can correct what went wrong the year before. Last year I came into the race mentally and physically a little exhausted. I had a bit of a tight IT Band and it was a rough race. This year I went in with a different game plan and here is how it turned out.

Friday night before the race I attended the Mocktail party with the other Zooma Ambassadors at the Marriott in Napa, the host hotel for the event. I met Lynda, of the blog Fitness Mom Wine Country, as she was my host for the evening. We grabbed dinner at Whole Foods and then headed to her house and then off to sleep.

I had a 5:30 wake-up call and it was off to the race. I had a quick bite to eat, a blueberry bagel, banana and Nuun and was ready to go. We got to the race venue about 45 minutes before the race start and with plenty of time to apply sunblock, make one last bathroom break and take a photo at the start with the other wonderful ambassadors.

I began the race running within myself and my abilities. I have a tendency to start out too fast and this race I actually held myself back. I fueled with water and Clif Shot Bloks, my go-to race fuel for the first 8 miles and with Chocolate Hazelnut PocketFuel for the last 5 miles. The course itself is out and back and runs past beautiful landscapes and vineyards. Last year I forgot to bring my own fuel and the water stations only provided Cytomax and Water, this year I learned my lesson and brought my own fuel, which kept my blood sugar from crashing like it did last year after mile 8.

Mile 8 felt pretty good. I just kept telling myself to keep running and not stop. The last few miles of a race are always more of a mental battle than a physical one. I just stayed mentally strong and kept running. I even passed multiple people on my way to the finish and finished with negative splits (which means I ran a faster pace per mile on the last few miles than the previous miles).

The last sprint to the finish was an absolute blast and I was excited to be done. I was a bit disappointed that I missed my goal of sub-2 hours, but was overall happy with my 2:01:46 finish, especially considering my sub-par training.

A big shout out to all the ladies who ran and finished the Zooma Napa Valley race! Sending positive vibes to all my fellow Zooma Ambassadors as well. I also want to send a big thanks to all the Zooma Race Sponsors and especially to Feetures! Running, the maker of my absolute favorite running socks! Go check them out, your feet will thank you.

Overall the race was extremely fun and has awesome swag. My biggest complaint is the lack of nutrition on course. There was plenty of water with stops every two miles, but food was hardly anywhere to be found. Also - the course is gorgeous and there were hot air balloons dotting the sky, breathtaking!

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(2014)
"Great Halloween Race!"
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I ran this race in 2014. I was invited as a blogger and received a VIP registration in return for my review. You can read my full blog review here: http://reasontoplay.com/healdsburg-wine-country-half-marathon-recap/

This race has a great expo and awesome pre-race events when you sign up for VIP events. Professional runners Dean Karnazes and Sarah Hall both ran the race in 2014 and Dean participated in a pre-race dinner.

The day of the race transportation was easy to get to. You ride a bus from the finish line at the winery where you also park your car. It was rainy the morning of the race but the race directors had tents we could huddle under and coffee to keep us warm. The race started on time and was sent off with cheerful banter and lots of costumed halloween runners!

The course itself was gorgeous. The first mile is on a gradual uphill and the rest of the race has a few rolling hills through wine country. There are water stations and wine stations on course and fans cheer at different points throughout the race. The race has a flat, fast finish and a great finish line experience. Plus the medal was awesome! I love destination races and this one I would definitely do again. Everything from registration, to race, to finish went smoothly.

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(2014)
"Best in SF!"
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Two weekends ago I ran the San Francisco Half Marathon. This race is unique because it offers a full marathon, 1st half marathon and 2nd half marathon. This way half marathon runners have the ability to run the full course over consecutive years. I chose to run the first half this year. The first half is known to have the most hills, but also it has the prettiest views. I got to run over the Golden Gate bridge which was amazingly fun and a remarkably clear day.

Let’s start at the beginning. I applied to be an ambassador for the race this year and was lucky enough to be chosen to represent the San Francisco marathon in my community and to promote it on my blog and social media channels. The ambassador community itself was amazing the whole last year leading up to the race. From motivation to training tips and plans, the group did an excellent job as a whole and I feel blessed to be a part of it.

As a part of being an ambassador I got the unique opportunity to be interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle about race recovery. I had no idea that it would be on the front page of the newspaper on Saturday before the race! I can’t thank the race enough for giving me this opportunity. It truly was a dream come true! Check out the article here.

Saturday morning I arrived in San Francisco and headed straight to the expo at Fort Mason for the shakeout run with Bart Yasso. This was the first time I met the race ambassadors and they were all incredibly friendly and nice. I intended to only do a 1-2 mile run, but ended up doing 3 miles a lot faster than I should have. I got caught up in the moment. All in all, it was still worth it for the views. I wasn’t going for a half marathon PR on this course, so I was a little less strict with my pre-race activities.

After the run I stopped by the expo to pick up my race day essentials, bib number and goody bag. Then I headed out to Nike Union Street to join my friends there for a quick cross training workout with background views of the Golden Gate Bridge. After this workout, I went and had a delicious crepe breakfast. Where I live, in Ukiah, there are no good crepe places around, so I took full advantage and got a sweet and savory crepe. Yummy pre-race food!

The rest of the day was pretty relaxing and involved meeting up with friends at the expo, stocking up on Nuun, and hydrating. Then I returned to Berkeley, where I was staying with a friend that evening.

Sunday morning I woke up around 3:30am and had a light breakfast, got ready, and headed into SF. I parked my car and headed to the start line. I met up with some ambassadors at the Ambassador and Pacer tent and they helped keep my nerves at bay. At 5:42am, my wave started and I was off!

The beginning of the race followed a similar course to the Nike Women’s Marathon (we ran past the Ferry Building, Fisherman’s Wharf and past Crissy Field) until we veered off and ran over the Golden Gate Bridge. I loved this part. I got more energy on the bridge and was revitalized by the views and all the runners around me. It was here that I began to take my Clif Shot Bloks to keep my energy up. A mistake I made at the Zooma Run was forgetting to fuel properly on the run, and I wasn’t going to do that again.

After turning back and crossing the bridge for a second time there was a fairly hilly finish for the final three miles heading to Golden Gate Park. I was starting to get tired legs, but all in all I felt pretty good at this point and finished strong. I finished in 2:12, which was not a bad time for me considering all of the hills and my poor training due to the number of weddings and travel I have done the past few months.

My race ended where the second half marathon began. I got my finisher’s medal, heat wrap, muffin and Zico coconut water, and continued through the finisher’s chute. I thought the finish process was extremely efficient and the buses back to the start line were moving very quickly.

Once back I watched some of the marathoner’s finish and then headed back home. I was pretty exhausted on my 2.5 hour drive home and promptly took a nap when I got back.

This year was my first year running this race and I absolutely loved it! I want to run the second half marathon next year so I can see the whole course and pick up an extra special finishers medal for completing the first half and second half in back to back years! How cool is that?

If you want to run this race next year be sure to sign up early as it does sell out! For all the details head to the San Francisco Marathon website. I hope to see you on course again!

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