Latest reviews by Michelle Ladonne

(2016)
"Granite State Marathon - New England Challenge 2016"
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This race is part of the New England Challenge, a series of five marathons in five days throughout new England in mid-May. The Granite State marathon is held on the second day of the series in Nashua, New Hampshire. The race takes place in Mine Falls Park, a 325-acre park with forest, wetlands and open fields, bordered by the Nashua River.

The race started at 6 AM, and I was surprised to find that there were no porta-potties at the start/finish (there was a delivery issue). Luckily, runners were welcomed to use the restroom at the YMCA across the street, but this made for a somewhat challenging start to the day.

The course began with a quick 0.8 mile out-and-back along the road leading into the park, and then began a series of five 5-mile loops around Mine Falls Park. The course was almost entirely on packed dirt trails, but with very stable footing and only minor elevation changes. The wooded areas made much of the course shady, and the sections along the Nashua River were stunningly beautiful. I enjoyed running past bridges that crossed the river, and sections of wetland that reflected the sun.

The park was open to other walkers and runners, but trail traffic was minimal and it made for a peaceful run. There were two aid stations along the course - one with water and Gatorade on the back part of the loop, and a larger aid station at the turnaround point/timing mat area with water/Gatorade as well as some food - peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, potato chips, pickles and other salty snacks. Luckily, I also noticed as we ran that there were two porta-potties located within the park near soccer fields that we ran past twice on each loop, which somewhat eased the bathroom facility issue earlier in the day.

Course support was excellent, with volunteers who were highly encouraging. Several volunteers snapped photos throughout the course which were later made available for free on the race's Facebook page. I loved having race photos almost immediately after finishing to post! The race medal was in the shape of New Hampshire, along the theme of the New England Challenge, where each consecutive marathon was run in a different state, with that state's medal.

Best parts of this race?
- Incredible scenery
- Packed dirt terrain, easy on the joints, which made for a fast run
- Excellent ultra-style food available on the course

Toughest parts of the race?
- Lack of porta-potties at the start/finish
- Course markers were somewhat unclear, which caused several runners to turn the wrong way on the trails

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(2016)
"A Snowy but Well-Supported Race"
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The weather forecast had said "flurries" starting at 10 am, so when I woke up to two inches on the ground and snow continuing to come down rapidly at 6 am, I was less than impressed. But this is what we runners do, right?! Onward! True to form, the snow didn't keep many of my club members away, although it did cause us to break out our winter clothes once again... hats, gloves, jackets, and even ski goggles to ward off the blowing snow.

Almost immediately, I stepped in a huge puddle and my feet were soaked in icy water. Also, although I felt fine when I woke up, my legs felt heavy and tired almost immediately after starting to run - testament to the previous day's hills. It was the race volunteers that kept me going - over 75 volunteers out on the course, manning water stations, giving splits at mile markers, taking photos and just cheering us on, while they themselves were covered in snow. The support was pretty incredible, and it kept me motivated. As I sprinted across the finish line with snow and hail blowing in my eyes, I felt unstoppable.

In terms of the race logistics - the swag was awesome. We received a bag with several freebies and coupons, as well as a neon orange tech shirt, which I loved and will put to good use. The race also had 40+ raffle items which runners were entered in for free. I won a pound of Starbucks coffee and a travel mug! The age group and overall awards were also pretty awesome - gardening shovels with the race name and date, hung on ribbons. Super creative!

Parking was right across the street and the race director let us stay in the school's gym until just before the race, which made the snowy conditions totally bearable. Race support was AWESOME and I was grateful for the bananas, hot coffee and bagels in the gym after the race as well.

A great local race that I will definitely do again!

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(2016)
"A competitive, hilly race"
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Despite the driving rain all morning, I had a great time at the Frank Nealon Boston Tune-Up 15k. This race, held by the Tri-Valley Front Runners, is considered a prep race for the Boston Marathon, and more than half their field this year was club runners, which made for a fast and competitive race. I enjoyed running with the more experienced runners and many of my own club members, which made it easier to push my speed by sticking with runners who were around my target pace.

The only thing that I had conveniently forgotten about this area of Western Massachusetts is that it is hilly. I mean HILLY. My Garmin tells me that the race had a total elevation gain of 323 feet, and I can say that I felt every one of those. This course was not for the weak, but after the first few miles, I actually found myself getting into a good groove. The miles passed by quickly as I focused on getting to the top of one hill, and then rejoiced in a downhill, and then refocused on the next hill. I honestly didn't spend as much time enjoying the scenery as I usually would (and it was beautiful!) because I was so intently focused on the hills and keeping up my pace.

Although I was exhausted by the end, I was proud of maintaining a strong, relatively consistent pace on a rainy day on a difficult course. I was completely soaked when I finished, and couldn't have been more excited to see the race volunteers ladling hot soup into bowls right near the finish line. Awesome! Inside the school gym where the race finished, I enjoyed a slice of pizza and a chocolate chip cookie as well. My only moment of sadness occurred when I realized that I had forgotten dry clothes to change into. Let's just say it was a COLD hour-long drive home...

In terms of race logistics... swag included a soup mug, which I thought was super creative. Race volunteers also had Gatorade and water every 2-ish miles throughout the course, and parking couldn't have been more convenient. Pizza, cookies, soup and many other goodies awaited us at the potluck lunch at the finish. Overall, a great challenging, well-supported race.

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(2016)
"Bucket List Race"
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One of my favorite races in the New England area. The race starts in Kittery, Maine and runs all along route 1A past town beaches, lobster shacks and quaint small towns, through Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, and finishes just over the border in Salisbury, Massachusetts. The views were absolutely breathtaking and every moment of this race was scenic. The race shirts are great, although the medals were somewhat underwhelming and there was no expo for this race. However, the race was extremely well organized - I was impressed by the bus transportation from the parking lot at the Hampton Casino to the start in Kittery, Maine, and then again from the finish line in Salisbury, MA to the post-race food in Hampton. Food after the race was exceptional - 3 kinds of soup, pizza, cake, and plenty of other munchies. Bag check was super organized - they had my bag out before I could even hobble to the bus! The only downside was the aid stations 3 miles apart, which made for some challenging fueling - if I did it again, I would definitely carry my own water. Otherwise an awesome race experience!

For more details, check out my race recap at: http://run4life262.blogspot.com/2016/03/race-recap-eastern-states-20-mile-aka.html

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(2016)
"Hills, Hills and More Hills!"
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This was a good race for February in New England. Swag was excellent, and included a free pair of Darn Tough socks, and a fleece blanket embroidered with the race logo. Parking was close to the finish and easy to find. Post-race food was awesome, including hot baked ziti, macaroni and cheese and soup served cafeteria style. The course was HILLY - be prepared! Course support was excellent, but the hills never seemed to stop coming! If I was trained better, I might have enjoyed it more. This race has a very experienced field with many running clubs participating, so be ready for a competitive, challenging race!

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