Latest reviews by Jon

(2016)
"Flat, Fast Small Town 5K"
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There's just something about a small-town 5K, especially if you live, race and train in a large city.

Sometimes it is just nice to get away and run a well-produced event, in another city, county or state.

Last Saturday's Bull Run 5K in Belle Plaine, Minnesota - an hour or so to the southwest of Minneapolis fit the bill.

The flat, two-loop course through the Belle Plaine neighborhood was partially shaded by an abundance of trees in the small town of 6,661 that was east and south of the high school and junior high school where the race started and finished.

The race was manually timed (still haven't seen results posted), but when you're running a 30-minute 5K you're not likely to place - and the watch worked just fine.

Didn't see that the course was certified on the USATF website, but it seemed pretty close. (My daughter overheard somebody on the course telling another runner that it had been known to be short.) We started "about .1 from the finish" and those two loops were equidistant with the remaining mileage to the finish line.

However, I had 44 seconds, which means that I would have been running under an 8-minute pace for that last tenth. (Don't think so!)

Nonetheless, it didn't take away from the race and the community atmosphere, which was part of the 58th annual Belle Plaine B-B-Q Days. People had set their lawn chairs up the night before for the parade when we drove into town that morning. And the grand marshal even ran in the race.

There was a spirited kid's race before the start of the 5K - and no overbearing parents that are sometimes seen at some of these distances. Just a lot of encouragement and support. Fantastic!

Course was well-patrolled by Belle Plaine's finest. Drivers in the neighborhood, for the most part, seemed to be patient to the runners.

The course featured a fair number of turns, especially over two loops, and I noticed lots of runners who probably ran 3.2 because they weren't running the tangents between turns.

Race day registration was $20, I believe, and you got a nice T-shirt. Great deal when lots of places race day registration is $25, $30 or more for a 5K.

And the people that I was around were as friendly as could be.

If you're in the area on vacation, like we were, this would be a wise choice to run a race in a great, smaller community with some cooler summertime temperatures.

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(2016)
"Tough, beautiful course, but race best for March or October."
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If you're a runner that is chasing a goal such as running a marathon or half marathon in all 50 states, you've probably learned that it isn't so much about a particular feature of a race you want to do in a certain state.

It's more about the fit to your budget and schedule.

That being said, I very rarely look at an elevation chart.

But having done the Leadville Heavy Half in Colorado many years ago, I would only shy away from a very technical and steep trail race.

Rolling out from the start line of the third annual Bourbon Derby Half Marathon, 10-Miler and 4-Miler near Paris, Kentucky recently, I quickly realized that maybe I should revisit that policy.

While it is one of the most beautiful courses that you might run by going - literally - through many thoroughbred farms, it packs 1,147 feet of elevation change into 13.1 miles.

Throw in a race that started on a humid morning with temperatures that started at 68 degrees and eventually rose to 80 before I finished, the combination of the two dished out a beating.

This race would really best be run in early-to-mid March or in late October.

The event producer had plenty of water stations and the volunteers working them - and the rest of the course - were superb.

The race started on-time and I can't comment on post-race festivities and awards as I left to head back to my hotel in Georgetown to drive back to Indianapolis to fly home to Houston.

The most unique thing about the race is that it started and finished in the drive-in lane of a drive-in theater! You parked your car like you were there for a movie!

While running the race - or running the downhills and walking the uphills, rather, you realize that the event producer had little, if any, traffic control costs.

Most were very rural, paved roads that had very low-density traffic.

In fact, I only saw one traffic control sign - that Department of Transportation would require - on the road approaching the movie theater.

In fact some of the course was on roads through various farms that wouldn't be available to the public.

When we finished, we were given a medal that wasn't.

It was made of wood!

Being involved in event production, these two things take a significant amount out of the cost.

If it indeed goes towards the non-profit producer's stated scholarship programs and charities, no worries. It just left a different taste in my mouth.

This race was first produced two years ago and experienced very pleasant temperatures, according to weatherunderground.com -- 53 degrees at the start and 62 near the end. 324 ran the half marathon, 110 the 10-miler and another 134 did the four-miler.

Perhaps based on that, last year, 551 ran the half while 63 and 108 did the 10- and 4-milers, respectively.

This year, the half marathon number of finishers was way down with 258 while the 10-miler and 4-milers saw 50 and 116 runners cross the finish line, respectively.

I would never say not run this race, but I'd jump on it again if the date was moved where there were cooler temperatures.

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(2016)
"Simple, Fun, Challenging 5K"
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Love small town races and the Fryburg Mayfest Fun Run 5K didn't disappoint.

Don't let the "Fun Run" part make you think that this wasn't a race.

Set underneath the very tall St. Michael's Catholic Church in the small northwestern towns of Fryburg and Marble, this race is a double out-and-back with State Road 208 serving up most of the course (except for the turnarounds on the opposite ends of the course).

The race starts right in front of the church on the road and heads south into the neighboring town of Marble. (These are really, really small towns.) You go south all the way to behind Montana's Country Cafe where there is the first of three water stops and then you head back north.

As soon as you get back onto State Road 208, the climb that ends back at the start line begins.

It is the first of three climbs on the course.

You continue running north back up to what's known as Old Fryburg Road, where you turn left and go to another turnaround. In this stretch is the second slightly, not as difficult climb.

The third and final climb is back to SR 208 where you make the right-hand turn to head back to the finish line, which is off in a small parking lot that is part of the Church's Parish grounds.

There's a slight incline, but it really isn't anything to slow you down.

You received a tech shirt with this race. It was electronically timed (no mat at the start, but with less than 200 you really don't need it). Plenty of fluids to go around post-race.

This was held on a Friday night as part of the town's two-day Mayfest festival.

If you're in the area for this race, take the opportunity to do it. You'll be glad you did so.

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(2016)
"Learn What Isn't Mentioned in Race Material"
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Very mixed feelings about this race.

All but two volunteers were friendly and excellent; those are things that we should all be thankful for as runners, all the time.

There were some severe communication issues, though, that could have been avoided.

This race has been going on since 1981, but it hasn't embraced some of the tenets of racing in 2016.

Tough course, which had a 2.7% grade over 1.84 miles that was between 1.46 and 3.29 miles, according to one runner's profile on mapmyrun.com.

The first four or so miles are on a road that was covered with mixed gravel and dirt, while the last almost two were on fairly smooth paved road.

Communications? Nowhere on the race's web site did it indicate an elevation profile or that it might have been good to wear trail shoes as regular road shoes just didn't allow for decent enough traction very early in the race.

I think sometimes that community races or races that have been going on three decades or more never think about what the race may look like to somebody that is brand new to it.

Especially when you list the race on one of the national event listing websites, such as runningintheusa.com, where I found the race listed.

Although I'm from around the area of the race, my family moved from there just before I turned 10 to Texas. Almost 50, I had never been to the park before and having flown into Pittsburgh from Houston, I approached the Park from the west along Interstate 80.

It was probably the most remote approach (north) from the other three directions, but there was no signage along a "not even two-lane road" to indicate that I was going in the right direction towards the park.

But the most glaring issue was the fact that you didn't have water available until just past mile 3, which is through almost all of the incline, especially when it warmed up on a part of the course that wasn't as covered as it was in other parts of the Park.

There was another water stop at almost mile 5, but stations at miles 2 and 4 would seem to be more appropriate - and to list it on the website to be able to plan for it (or to carry water if it wasn't satisfactory).

Normally for a 10-kilometer race on a flat course, you may or may not need to have water at all, but on a warmer day with a hilly course it just could have been more evenly placed.

And while there was EMS at the finish and maybe around ~100 runners (the race had 121 finishers the year before), it just seemed as if somebody could have easily run into a rough spot where they would have been out of touch with anyone for a mile (between mile 2 and mile 3 and mile 3 and mile 4).

This viewpoint was exacerbated by the fact that a runner who was sitting and waiting for somebody between miles 2 and 3, maybe more early in mile 2. They were OK when I asked them (and before I made it to mile 3 there was a vehicle that was coming to get to them). Additionally, there was an "older than me" runner who was bobbing and weaving a little bit ahead of me. I caught up to him, let him have some of my water and then advised everybody I came in contact with ahead of me to just make sure he was alright.

Would I recommend the race to a friend? Yes, but I would arm them with information that I've shared here that isn't disclosed on the race's main webpage.

To the race: Think about everything possible that somebody who isn't from your area needs to know to get to your race, where to start (there were people from Altoona and State College - in the area - that were asking) and many other things.

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(2016)
"Tough race; Quality event"
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The Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Half Marathon bills itself as America's Toughest Road Half Marathon, with 3,960 feet in elevation change. And it certainly lives up to its billing!

The only harder race that I've ever done underneath the marathon distance is the Heavy Half Marathon in Leadville, Colorado, which is considered a trail event and is 15.4 miles - 7.7 miles each way from downtown Leadville (10,200 feet) to Mosquito Pass (13,000 feet and change).

You get about a mile or so reprieve to get warmed up and then the first climb of many to reach the top of Mill Mountain begins. The next three miles takes you all of the way up to the famous star in Roanoke and then it is quad-busting downhill, which puts you on a short stretch of the city's trail system at around mile 6.

The breathers come in distances no longer than a mile because by the time you see mile 7, you're getting another incline (at this point any incline takes a piece out of you). Then what almost might be more challenging is the climb known as Peakwood. It seems a bit more steep and while the descent is much more gentle, you tend to want to try to run it faster which puts more pounding on the quads.

By the time you pass mile 10, which is on the lowest part of the descent, you're spent.

Then even the overpass that you crossed at the end of the first mile on your return to the finish seems monumental.

Your reward is a nice two-to-three block downhill finish.

This is a race that you should try one time just to say that you did it.

Roanoke is a beautiful part of the country and of the commonwealth of Virginia.

The race has a nice pre-race Expo setup in downtown that was efficient to get what you needed, yet put you in front of vendors without shoving them in your face. A nice balance.

Aid stations were plentiful. Volunteers were top-notch. Course support was solid. Traffic control was superb.

There's not a whole lot - from an event production standpoint - that one could complain about.

A half marathoner, who finished right in front of me, sped up to break the tape of the overall winner of the marathon. Race management, which has lead vehicles with the men's and women's marathon leaders as part of local television coverage, can cone that last stretch once the first marathoner comes in - combined with a couple of strong, empowered volunteers or race staff - to keep that from happening again and give marathoners an opportunity to sprint the downhill to the finish.

I'm not a medal person at all, but this race deserves better than a medal that doubles as a bottle opener.

For the difficulty of the race, it deserves a medal on the scale of the Little Rock Marathon or the Texas Marathon on New Year's Day in Kingwood.

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