Latest reviews by This Old Runner ~~

(2019)
"2019 Pittsburgh Half Marathon"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The Pittsburgh Marathon offers runners lots of choices. Full, Half, Relay, and 5K events. The 5K, Toddler Run, and Pet Walk are on Saturday, the Half and Full are on Sunday. The Steel Challenge gets you an extra shirt and medal: run the 5K on Saturday, plus one of the Sunday races.

RACE EXPO and PACKET PICKUP
The expo was at the Pittsburgh Convention Center downtown. Hours were 11 am to 8 pm on Friday; 9 am to 6 pm on Saturday. You looked up your bib number, got your bib, bag, and shirt. Signs were clear and there were plenty of people around to help.

We tried to hit the expo on Friday morning. Parking was tight since city workers and everyone running on Saturday were already parking in town. You could park and walk in to the expo but we didn't have time before a lunch date. We returned early on Saturday morning. Parking was easy, and the expo wasn't crowded. We were in and out in under an hour.

It was a big city expo with samples, vendors, fuel, shoes, and race gear. If you forgot anything you could find it at the expo. Brooks had a black and gold Pittsburgh edition shoe which looked sweet. Price was right, too. More details and photos at ThisOldRunner.com

RACE DAY
I love the way the corrals worked. It was organized and easy. You could find all the info you needed about everything online or in emails. There is an app by P3R that sent notifications on race weekend. I appreciated messages like "Expo is Open" and "Head to Your Corral."

The starting line was organized and moved at a good pace. We opted for the last corral and ran a low pressure, back of the pack race. We started about half an hour after the first wave.

THE COURSE
The course for the half was scenic and fun despite the cloudy, wet day. It was great to see the city on foot. The half had rolling hills — nothing too terrible. I did a lot of hill repeats to train for this race, so either they paid off or the marathon had more challenging hills.

AID STATIONS
Aid stations were about every 2 miles. There was NUUN and water at every station. Plenty of hydration for everyone. On course med tents and EMS and police were plentiful. If you had trouble on course there were plenty of professionals around to help.

SPECTATORS and ENTERTAINMENT
There were pockets of people cheering on the runners. It was a rainy morning, but there were lots of spectators. There were bands playing along the course, people dressed in costumes, and groups of people offering encouraging words.

FINISH LINE
OMG, I love, love, love the way this race ends. There are a couple of turns before you end up back on Liberty Avenue. Since there's a marathon there were still plenty of people lining the street and cheering when half marathoners finished. The tall buildings create an echo chamber. It was thrilling to run to the finish with loud cheers on both sides.

FINISHER CHUTE and FAMILY MEET UP
After crossing the finish you receive a medal, water bottles, banana, bagels, fruit cup, EatnPark Smiley cookies, salty snacks, and a heat sheet. There may have been other things I missed. Point is, there was plenty of post race food.

The chute funneled racers towards Point State Park where you could meet up with friends/family. Take a quick right for the porta potties and gear check. BTW, the full marathon's named sponsor is FedEx. Gear check was in FedEx Trucks parked along Liberty Avenue.

Marathoners received a free beer; $5 for everyone else. The beer tent was a couple of blocks away from Point State Park.

Inside the park were more vendors, free samples, an official merchandise tent, challenge medal pickup, etc. The rain was on and off all morning, so we joined the group huddled under the arch to visit with family. When the skies cleared we made our way back to the ice arena where we parked for free.

SWAG
The race medal is nice -- shows the city reflected in the river, plus highlights the three rivers. The race shirt is black tech long sleeve. It was nice to throw it on after the race. In the swag bag there were some $10 coupons for Dick's Sporting Goods and GNC, plus Honey Stinger Waffle + coupon, NuGo Bar and info on getting your medal engraved.

People in Pittsburgh are always friendly and fun, and so was their race!

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(2019)
"Mud Run Fun for Everyone"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Can a spectator review a race? Yes, yes they can when it's as awesome as Rugged Maniac in Dade City, Florida! I didn't run since I had a half marathon soon, but I enjoyed watching and cheering for all the muddy runners.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The race was held at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City, FL. It's a beautiful rural area about an hour north of Tampa. The obstacles were positioned on a 5K course that wound through open fields, sloping hills, and oak groves. Spectators could watch from a multi-level viewing stand, or walk out to some of the obstacles.

The course and festival layout were excellent. Start and Finish line, festival, bag check, check in, shower area, and port-a-potties were all conveniently located.

CHECK IN and BAG CHECK
Check in tents opened at 8 am. Runners were encourage to arrive an hour and a half before their start time. Free bag check was available near the starting line.

Since the DJ was playing music and the festival was set up early, there was plenty to see and do before racing. (Bull riding, corn hole, food, vendors, merch tent, walk around the ranch, etc.)

RUNNER WAVES
Runners took the course in waves of 200 people. The elite wave was at 9 am. They were the only officially timed wave eligible for awards.

Everyone else self reported based on their watch or the clock at the finish line. The waves of runners kept the event moving at a good pace. No traffic jams at the obstacles, and a constant flow of racers to watch.

There were two water stations on course, plus water, bananas and oranges at the finish line.

FESTIVAL
The festival area had games, free samples, music, bull riding, food and drinks. Racers receive one free beer. The DJ kept everyone entertained with a steady stream of activities and contests. Stein-hoisting, pull ups, and pie-eating contests happened throughout the day.

Food and beverages were for sale using a ticket system. You had to purchase a block of $10 tickets.

POST RACE CLEAN UP
There was a shower area and changing tents across from the festival area. Hoses on scaffolding create the showers. There were large garbage cans filled with water for deep dunking. Runners could donate their wet, muddy shoes to a charity that cleans and donates the shoes.

WEATHER
The weather was perfect: 72 degrees and low humidity with lots of sunshine. It was easy for runners to warm up after the race.

PARKING
Parking was $10 per car. $15 for a van. Cash only. Everyone parked in an open field, then waked about a quarter mile to the starting area. It was a pleasant walk with views of the race.

SWAG
Every racer received a tech shirt, finisher medal, free photos, and one free beer if old enough to drink. The photos were online by Thursday after the race.

FIRST TIME OCR?
Everyone I spoke to said Rugged Maniac is the best choice for first-time obstacle course racers. From what I saw, I'd agree.

The obstacles were challenging, but not impossible. You could walk around anything that was too difficult. Some obstacles offered alternatives like a ladder instead of an incline.

Overall, I think anyone who trained for it could complete the race. I saw runners of all ages, shapes, and sizes on the course. And they were all smiling!

PRICING
Like any race, register early for the best price. Early bird pricing for next year opens right after the race and lasts for several months. There is a $10 discount for military and students.

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(2019)
"It Really is the Best Damn Race"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Best Damn Race Safety Harbor is the 2nd in the 2019 series of 5 Best Damn Races. (Jacksonville, Safety Harbor, Savannah, Orlando and New Orleans). Safety Harbor is located on the west side of Tampa Bay.

This was year 7 for the Safety Harbor race. It has steadily improved each year. I can’t say enough good things about this year's event.

• PACKET PICKUP and THE EXPO 

Racers had three options for packet pickup. Thursday in Tampa at Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Friday and Saturday on-site at the BDR Expo.

The expo was at Safety Harbor Marina Park on the waterfront. You could pick up your packet then peruse all the vendor tents. There were freebies and samples from local races and places. Several races had giveaways and discounts. If you needed sunglasses or a headband before the race, you could get it. The Best Damn Race merch tent featured new items like a sugar skull hat and Tervis tumblers.

Picture spots were set up at the expo. You could grab pics in front of Tampa Bay, the finish line, or a BDR backdrop. The weather was a happy surprise. The threat of rain disappeared. It was a gorgeous weekend.

• THE SWAG 

Everyone received a Best Damn Race reusable bag. Inside was a location specific pint glass, discounts to local race, Biscoff cookies, a Sticker Mule sticker of a race medal, and promotional giveaway items from the sponsors.

The race shirts are a soft poly/cotton/rayon blend. Dark blue heather with a bright logo on the front. You could exchange it for a different size on Saturday after the last race began.

• RACE COURSE 

I ran the Half marathon. It began on Bayshore Boulevard with excellent views of the sunrise. We ran along the water then headed inland long enough to get to Philippe Park.

Philippe Park has huge oak trees that form a tunnel through the park. It was a fun place to run. Slight inclines and declines. We ran out and back through the park, then headed across town. We ran to the other side of Safety Harbor then up and down some hills.

The hills are mild compared to places like Pennsylvania and Virginia, but they’re hills to Floridians. It was a good test. The race finished by running along Tampa Bay again with park and water views.

Every mile is marked. LEO and volunteers were abundant on course. No chance of getting lost.

• AID STATIONS 

There were 11 aid stations available to half marathoners. The first stop had water, the rest had water and Gatorade. SIS gels and GU gels were available at mile 5 and 8. Two port-a-potties at each aid station.

• MEDALS and MORE MEDALS
The medal is a SAND GLOBE. It’s a 3D globe with sand inside. (See photo). All the medals are all bright, fun graphics that depict the race city. Every race has it’s own medal: 5K, 10K, and half. An additional medal is earned if you run the 5K, 10K Challenge.

If you run a half marathon in each of the 5 BDR race cities you get extra medals along the way. 2x, 3x, 4x and 5x racer bling is awarded as you earn it.

• POST RACE PARTY  

The location of the race course is super nice. The location of the post race party is excellent. As you cross the finish line you receive your medal and a bottle of water.

A few yards away is the post race party in beautiful Marina Park. Everything is included in your race fee. So, grab a beer, hard seltzer, or vodka mixed drink to start.

The choices seem never-ending: Outback Steakhouse chicken, steak, and Caesar salad. Papa Johns pizza delivered hot to the party. Fresh strawberries, salty snacks (Cheetos anyone?), bite-size chocolate bars, brownies, donuts, coffee, soft drinks, water, and electrolytes were available.

Ring the PR bell, take a photo, watch the awards ceremony. Talk to running friends you haven’t seen since last year. Visit the vendors. Sign up for your next race. Visit the port-o-potties.

There’s plenty of room for everyone to stay and relax after the race. It was a beautiful day, and the post race party was scheduled to last until noon.

• PARKING 

Plenty of street parking. Lot parking is available in several lots a mile to 2 miles from the starting line. Race management and the website do a good job of explaining the parking set up. All parking was free.

• PRICING
Race registration kicks off with a blitz in March. Get in early for the best price. The cost increases on a sliding scale based on the number of people who registered.

This year the 5K, 10K, and Challenge SOLD OUT.

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(2018)
"Festive Fun at the Hot Chocolate Tampa 15K"
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Everything about this race is sweet! If you haven't run a Hot Chocolate race yet, go find one and register.

THE EXPO
The expo was at the Tampa Convention Center. It's also the start and finish point for the race. That means after packet pickup at the expo, you'll know where to park and line up on race day. The expo was in the East Hall. There was signage and staff to guide everyone to the right place. Packet pickup was easy as 1-2-3. Get your bib, get your SWAG bag, and visit all the vendors.

You could sign up for next year's race at special expo pricing. Try samples, play games for prices, and take advantage of discounted deals. There was a Hot Chocolate gear store with accessories, rain jackets, tanks, long sleeves, and jackets. Everything flowed smoothly.

There were picture spots all around the expo. Marshall the giant marshmallow man was outside on the steps of the convention center, too.

THE SWAG
Everyone — 5K and 15K runners — receive the full zip hooded jacket. It's some of the best race swag around. The sleeves have thumbholes. There are zip pockets. The jacket came in merlot and black this year. Everyone was encouraged to try on their jacket before leaving the expo. If it didn't fit you could use the SWAG SWAP area to get the right size by trading. There were lots of chocolate samples at the expo. I indulged in the hot chocolate because it's the BEST!

RACE COURSE
I ran the 15K. It was an out and back along Bayshore Blvd. on Tampa Bay. This is the third year for the #HC15K in Tampa, and I think it was the best weather yet. There was heavy cloud cover which made it comfortable. It was cool at the starting line. Once you started to run you didn't need a jacket. Still, it wasn't too hot.

The entire course is pretty and very flat. Lots of big houses and water views to see. The out and back course meant you see other runners out there. Lots of holiday decorations. Not a lot of spectators, but it didn't matter since you could see other runners.

Every mile is marked. Seemed to be Porta Pots at every aid station, maybe even each mile marker?

AID STATIONS
There were three aid stations offering water, Nuun , and candy. (M&Ms, marshmallows with chocolate chips, and Swedish fish. The volunteers were a blast — especially at the last aid station. The volunteers made a cheer tunnel, called runners by name, and gave an escort through the tunnel. It was hilarious, and a great boost.

15K MEDAL
The 15K finishers receive a giant chocolate bar with gold accents. It's city-specific, so the Tampa version had pirates and water. It's a substantial medal for a 15K distance.

FINISHERS CUP
Every runner, in the 5K and 15K gets a finishers cup filled with chocolate goodies. The delicious hot chocolate is in a cup in the center, surrounded by chocolate fondue and treats to dip in the fondue. Man, that really is the best hot chocolate around!

The post race finish area offered seating on the steps of the convention center. There were picture spots, portolets, and water views all around. Very well organized race. Great signage that made it easy to find everything.

PARKING
Parking was easier this year than last year. It was a $5 flat fee. You paid in cash when you entered the Tampa Convention Center garage. No fumbling around with payment machines and tickets after the race. It was easy in and easy out.

BONUS
There were a ton of runners dressed up in holiday gear. It was fun to see all the creative outfits out there! Great race at a good time of year. Who doesn't need a long run to burn off the crazy during the holidays?!

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(2018)
"First Watch Sarasota Half has Sparkling Views and Bling!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
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Fun Fact: The winners (top male and female) of this race win First Watch Daytime Cafe meals for a year!

This was my 3rd First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon. It should have been my 4th, but I had a sinus infection last year and DNS. I was very happy to return this year!

WEATHER:
63 degrees at the start, and just 74 at the finish. I should mention there was 100% humidity, but we're all gonna sweat anyway, right? The race started at 6:30 am this year, which meant we ran in the cool darkness for an hour.

PACKET PICKUP:
Miami on Wednesday, then in Sarasota on Friday and Saturday. Packet pickup was available on race morning, too. I went on Friday and got my bib, beer bracelet, and shirt in under 5 minutes.

SWAG:
This year's shirt is bright neon green and super soft. I'll definitely wear it a lot. The swag included a First Watch Cafe coupon, protein bars, and a package of First Watch coffee.

PARKING:
Parking is easy if you arrive early. The race begins and ends at Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, and there is plenty of on site parking. Use the lot if you aren't in a hurry to leave after the race — you can't exit until 10 am. There are other parking lots and street parking nearby. Details were in the athlete guide.

This year there was road construction on Tamiami Trail and 10th Street, so traffic backed up before the race. But, everything moved along thanks to traffic volunteers and law enforcement.

RACE COURSE:
You run up and down the John Ringling Causeway bridge TWICE between miles 2-5. It's a definite challenge, but feels so, so, good going down. It's a scenic view from every angle on the bridge. Depending on your pace you'll run the bridge in the dark, or as the sun rises. It's fun both ways.

The course takes you around St. Armand's Circle, along the Tamiami Trail, and through older neighborhoods with mature shade trees, bay views, and beautiful homes. There were both warm and cool breezes along Bayshore.

This year the race added designated picture spots so runners could take selfies with views of Sarasota Bay.

There were plenty of aid stations on the course. Water and Gatorade Endurance were available. Volunteers did a great job of handing off drinks. Gatorade Endurance gel was available at mile 9.

FINISH LINE:
Due to construction on 10th Street, the course start and finish were different. The final half mile didn't have the same momentum as past years when we raced downhill then turned into the finish, but it worked! There were cheering spectators, photographers, and kind volunteers. I always appreciate when someone puts the medal over my head rather than just handing it to me — especially after a half marathon. Ice cold water and Gatorade were available after crossing the finish line.

RACE PHOTOS:
One thing First Watch Sarasota Half always gets right is the finish line photogs. There are a couple taking finish line pics, but then there are more photogs ready to capture your medal pic and group shots post-race. And, I saw at least 4 photographers on the course.

Everyone receives free race photos, courtesy of Athlinks. It's cool how you have your race results and photos all in one place online. You can download your photos.

POST RACE PARTY:
The Beer Garden offered Michelob Ultra, Spiked Seltzer and Truly Sparkling alcoholic beverages. The food tent had a buffet of bananas, cut oranges, mini muffins, yogurt parfaits, pancakes, etc. from First Watch Daytime Cafe. I had the yogurt parfait — it was the perfect mix of granola, yogurt, strawberries and grapes. The post race festivities are on the lawn next to the bay. Very nice.

MEDALS:
You get the "biggest bling on Florida's West Coast" when you run this race. Organizers said this year's sparkling teal blue was inspired by Sarasota Bay. It's sure is a shiny glittering beauty — 4 x 4.5 inches. (See photo.)

NOTEWORTHY:
First Watch Sarasota Half and Relay added a 10K distance this year. If you've always wanted to #RunSarasota, but weren't ready for a half, give the 10K or Relay a try. You get all the perks of sunrise over Sarasota Bay and a delicious post-race party. Plus, every finisher received the huge, sparkly dolphin medal.

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