Latest reviews by Rebecca

(2016)
"Shamrock Half is an AWESOME race - completely flat, extremely well-organized and supported, with the best after party anywhere"
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The weather for the 2016 Shamrock Half Marathon was nothing short of miserable - 50 degrees but it felt like it was in the 30s due to the rain and 20-30 mph winds. This type of weather is always a possibility in Virginia Beach in March, so make sure to bring trash bags &/or disposable ponchos, a shower cap (to keep your hat dry), body glide and waterproof gloves. (Hand warmers don't work when they become wet.)

After being so miserable in the starting corral that I was honestly considering pulling myself out because I thought I was on the verge of hypothermia, I warmed up once I started running and ended up with a sweet PR in spite of the conditions!

The course: I don't think the course could be any more flat. Supposedly there's a slight incline up to the halfway point, but it was so slight I didn't notice it. At the start, runners have all 4 lanes of Atlantic, but then it narrows to 2 lanes after a couple miles. Since the road is crowned, you have to either run in the middle or switch sides periodically. The course begins on Atlantic, right in front of the old Cavalier Hotel, then runs down Atlantic for a few miles before heading west on Shore Drive. Right before mile 6, the course turns right into Fort Story and runs through Fort Story, then follows Atlantic south to 37th street where it turns to run the last part on the boardwalk. I'm told there are usually huge crowds of supporters along the course, but the weather kept all but the hardiest souls inside. Shore Drive is a pretty run through maritime woods and swamp, Fort Story is mostly boring (except for the part where you run by the 2 Cape Henry lighthouses), and the last part was pretty much a blur for me. I thought I'd enjoy running down the boardwalk but at that point I really just wanted to be finished. It's a fast course but some complained of difficulty running against the wind, and it's always windy there.

Support: Support on the course was excellent. There were 7 water stops, each with water, Gatorade, and portipottis. There were lines at some of the portipottis but I didn't have to use one so can't comment on the wait. There was at least one goo stop but I always carry my own. I usually carry my own water but didn't need to in this race, which was nice. There were also a number of unofficial stops - beer stops, a cupcake stop, and a couple of young girls handing out Kleenex (which was a huge hit).

Finisher's goodies: At the finish, we got a large medal with both lighthouses on it, which doubles as a bottle opener, an awesome finisher's beach towel, a hat, and a bag to carry it all. We also got a cookie, a granola bar, a banana and a bag of something like pretzels or chips. Race t-shirts were short sleeved, made of some technical fabric that doesn't look or feel technical.

In addition to the half marathon, there's a full marathon, 8K and 3 challenges. I really loved the challenge metals and I plan to do the Dolphin Challenge (8K on Saturday & half on Sunday) next year.

Post-race party: The post-race party was awesome! It was held in a big tent on the beach near the finish line. Each runner got 4 beers (although at the end they weren't really counting) and stew. I wish there had been more food options besides stew. There was also someone selling small snacks to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, but nothing really substantial. The bands were fantastic! Just good old classic rock and some 80s tunes. There were lots of people dancing and a number of beer cup pyramids being constructed. The party ended promptly at 4 pm, but then everyone walked over to Murphy's for more good music and beer. I was happy I stayed Sunday night so I could fully enjoy the festivities.

Parking/Lodging: I can't comment on parking, since I stayed in a hotel right by the finish and within easy walking distance from the start and didn’t use my car again until I checked out. Since Virginia Beach is a very commercialized beach, there are many hotels within walking distance of the start and finish, and I highly recommend staying in one if you plan to run this race. Book early because they all fill up - every single room. I decided to run this race at the last minute and couldn't find a room anywhere near the race. I ended up in a room at the Best Western that a friend didn't need. The Best Western Plus Oceanfront is the most convenient hotel to the finish line and post-race party. It was very easy for me to zip up to my room to change into dry clothes before heading to the party. I was even able to avoid using the portipottis because my hotel was so close. Other close hotels are Hampton Inn, Hilton (already booked for next year), and La Quinta.

Expo: The expo was large, but not as large as I expected for such a big race. There was a wide selection of vendors, including vendors I haven’t seen at other expos. I got there around 2:30 pm on Saturday and it wasn't crowded at all. After I picked up my packet, I listened to Bart Yasso's talk, which was interesting and funny. There were a number of other programs that I missed because I got into town so late. There is no race day packet pick up but someone else can pick up your packet with a copy of your ID and a note.

Overall, I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and am already planning to return next year.

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(2016)
"Hilly terrain and 2:50 cut-off time make this a challenging half"
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I recommend the Colonial Half Marathon, but with reservations. I wouldn't recommend it as anyone's first (or even second or third) half marathon and I wouldn't recommend it for back-of-the-pack runners. However, if you like a challenge, enjoy small races (there were 717 half marathon finishers), like the idea of being led to the start by marching fife and drum, and appreciate a bargain (early registration was about $50), this may be a great race for you.

Course: To say it was challenging would be an understatement. The course was ALL hills -- a constant up and down with very little level terrain. The course was mostly out-and-back, with a little loop at the halfway point. We began on the campus of William and Mary, took a road through town, then took a paved trail through the woods. Most of the course was on the paved trail, but there was a brief section around the 6 mile point where we had to run through what felt like 6 inches of mulch. (At least one person twisted her knee in this area and couldn't finish. Most of us just slowed down or walked this part.) Then we got back on the paved trail and took the trail and roads back to the campus, where we finished inside William and Mary Hall. The paved trail was about 3 people wide, but the good running surface was only about 2 people wide, so it was difficult to pass people who were running or walking in pairs. Because there were no starting waves, many people walked the hills, and no one moved to the side when they were walking, it was frustrating at times trying to pass people. The scenery was pretty running through the woods and on a boardwalk through wetlands, but it became monotonous at times. There were very few people cheering along the course. I wouldn't call this a fun race, but I felt like it was a major accomplishment to run it and run it well.

Support: There were 5 water stops. I had my own water, so found the 5 stops sufficient, but others complained there wasn't enough water. There definitely weren't enough porti-pottis - only one at each of the 3 stops. There were plenty of course marshals when I was running, so I had no difficulty finding my way, but the course marshals near the end left before the back-of-the-pack people finished. I didn't need first aid, but my friends who did said the first aid stations didn't have band-aids or anything to clean wounds.

Expo: The "expo" consisted of maybe 6-8 tables, and nothing that interested me. Packet pick-up was the morning of the race, which was good for those of us from out of town. Because it was a small race, there weren't the usual crowds to fight.

Parking: Parking was super-easy. There were plenty of spaces in the parking lot right next to William and Mary Hall, which was the location of packet pickup and the finish. There was even a grassy area behind some of the parking spaces, which was perfect for pre-race tailgating, stretching, etc. There was no bag check, so it was especially nice that cars weren't too far away.

After Party: I loved that the finish was inside the stadium, which is perfect for a typical February day, but I didn't like that they started packing things up and closed the beer garden before a number of people had finished. The post-race food consisted of bagels, bananas, and Gatorade.

SWAG: All entrants received a long-sleeved technical shirt and finishers received a finisher's medal - well worth the $50 entry fee. (This event is a fundraiser for William & Mary Track & Field program.)

There was also a 5K, a kids run and a 1K walk.

For me, it was a good race. I liked the low price, the small size, and the low-hassle, low-key nature of the race, and I ended up PRing despite the challenging course and unseasonably hot weather (68 degrees F). I was worried about pre-race fueling due to the 1:10 p.m. start time, but I ate a good breakfast and mid-morning snack, and allowed plenty of time to digest both, and it worked out well. I'll definitely do it again.

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(2016)
"50 mile relay is the best race EVER!"
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My team of 7 ran the 50 mile relay and really enjoyed the whole experience. The day went by so quickly! We intend to do it again next year and camp overnight, preferably with an RV.

The Southern Tour was a small race (maybe 500 runners total?) held on a large undeveloped piece of property right outside of Wilmington. The start, finish, and music were at the edge of a field where people camped and parked their cars. They kept a bonfire going all day, and many people brought their own fire pits, grills, chairs, tents, tarps, etc. We all set up camp, even those who were just there for the day. The music was awesome - not too loud and nothing obnoxious - just good old classic rock. They had a few food trucks but they apparently ran out of food early on. They even ran out of beer at one point but they brought in more. We all really enjoyed hanging out, talking to other teams, and getting up to cheer each of our team members as they finished.

The relay is broken up into 5-mile legs, each of which is a loop around the property and back to the starting point, where you hand off your baton to the next person. We each ran one loop, then 3 of us ran a second, but you can split up the legs any way you want to. The trail itself was beautiful, running through a maritime forest with occasional views of the marshes and Intercoastal Waterway. The trail was also in fairly good condition, with the exception of a few mud/water crossings which deteriorated throughout the day. But most of the water crossings were spanned by boards, and there were only one or two places where I couldn't avoid getting my feet wet and muddy. In one place, you have to walk across a log to cross a creek, but the log is very stable, and the race organizers even leveled off the top of the log and installed a rope to hold while crossing the log. Part of the trail was hard packed fire road while part appeared to be newly bush-hogged through the woods with a softer surface but still not very technical. There were some small ups and downs, but overall not much elevation change. There was one water stop, about midway.

I ran first and seventh, and ran well both times. Because of the good trail conditions, I was able to run faster than my usual trail pace, but still slower than my road pace. Because I ran the first leg, I was in a crowd at the start, but it quickly thinned out, and that's really the only time there were many others around me. In most places the trail was wide enough to pass people, and I never got stuck behind a slower person. I was afraid there would be a hold up at the log crossing, but it didn't seem to slow people down. When I ran the second time, the baton hand-off was a bit nerve-racking because it was very loud in the tent and difficult to hear when they called team numbers as team members approached.

Other than a couple very minor issues which I suspect will be fixed next year (this year was the inaugural race), I think the race organizer did an excellent job. The first issue was that there weren't enough portipottis for the number of people - there should have been 4-5 times as many. The ones they had were full by mid-day and had to be pumped out. The second issue was the time cut off. Because they didn't want anyone running the course in the dark (which is understandable), a team's last runner had to be on the course by 5:00. In order to make the cut-off, every team member had to average 11-minute miles, so about a third of the teams didn't make the cut-off. If you knew you wouldn't make the cut off, they let the last 2 or 3 team members run together to make sure everyone got to run. Hopefully next year they will start earlier so more teams will have a realistic chance of finishing.

There was no expo - just packet pickup and pre-race meetings at the race site the day before the race.

My advice: Arrive early enough on Friday to walk the course, so you'll know what to expect on Saturday. Be prepared to get wet and muddy. Figure out what you'll need to be comfortable outside all day, and take it all with you, since you can't enter and exit the race site easily. If the weather permits, it would be great to camp overnight, so you can relax and enjoy the post-race brew and your last runners can enjoy it as much as the earlier runners.

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(2016)
"Great way to begin the new year! A fun, hilly, small small-town race."
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The Set the Pace 5K is sponsored by the Smokestack Grill and is part of the Go! Malawi race series to raise money for the nonprofit organization Go! Malawi. Registration is through runsignup.com, and at only $18, it was one of the least expensive races I've run. There was no t-shirt or other swag, but everyone who entered got a bunch of raffle tickets for prizes (such as gift cards to local businesses) to be drawn after the race.

The race was very small, with only 77 finishers, and Camden was pretty quiet on New Year's Day, so parking was easy. The course was very hilly, but the last mile or so was a gradual downhill, which was particularly sweet - enough of a downhill to make it easy, but not so much that it beats up your knees. Race management was very informal, which is what you'd expect from such a small, small-town race. There were no water stops but lots of course marshals to cheer and direct runners. I and the runner right ahead of me both took a wrong turn at the one place where there wasn't a course marshal, but the other runners quickly pointed it out to us, so it added less than minute to my time.

I unfortunately wasn't able to stick around for the post-race festivities and award ceremony, but the division place awards looked really cool and unique - instead of medals, the awards were small African carvings on a cord to wear around your neck.

The race was difficult for me because I didn't have time to warm up, I don't do well with uphill starts, and unplanned traveling had wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule and my usual pre-race nutrition. The first mile was rough and the second mile only slightly less so, but the last mile was good because I was warmed up and running downhill.

Although the race was small, it was extremely competitive. I was very impressed by the times of some of the older (i.e. my age) runners.

Note: Because this race didn't fit into the usual categories, I rated T-Shirts/SWAG, Aid Stations, and Expo Quality with 5 stars, even though the race did not provide these amenities, because otherwise the overall rating would be misleading. I don't expect such amenities at a small race with an $18 entry fee, and I think the race was well worth the $18.

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(2015)
"SO much fun! If you enjoy Christmas light displays, you'll LOVE this! (warning: untimed - NOT a race)"
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If you enjoy Christmas decorations, cheering crowds, people dressed up in all manner of Christmas attire, and running with a large group of people, you'll love the Tacky Light Run. I've run it the past two years, and I highly recommend it. But you have to understand that it's a fun run - NOT a race. It's not timed, and it's silly to try to run it fast anyway, because you'll trip and run into people and miss out on all of the amazing light displays. It draws a big crowd, but is very well managed.

It begins at a park and runs through a neighborhood where most of the houses are decorated AMAZINGLY and the entire neighborhood is outside partying and cheering the runners. There's one water stop where they also have Christmas cookies, and they serve cookies at the end, but they also have a food truck and beer. The medals are awesome and can be used as Christmas tree ornaments, and this past year the swag included a very nice red and green Tacky Light Run stocking hat.

Logistics are a little bit difficult because you either have to walk a long way to the start or park in one of the shuttle lots and take a shuttle, but the enjoyment far outweighs the hassle factor. Last year I parked at the Urban Farmhouse and walked about a mile to the start, which wasn't a good idea because I got very cold walking back to my car after the race. This year I took the shuttle from one of the satellite lots and it went very smoothly without much waiting around.

The distance is ~3.8 miles and there are a few hills (elevation gain of 194 feet).

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