Latest reviews by Mai Khuong

(2019)
"Long Beach Love at the Half"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Expo

Parking for bib pick up is tricky as the expo is held at the Long Beach Convention Center and so parking is a little difficult to find. We parked a few blocks away and walked over to avoid spending $10+ to park at the center itself. Once parked, bib pick up was easy peasy. They do have metal detectors so don't be carrying any knives with you when you enter. :) I picked up my bib, shirt, some last minute supplies, found my name on their banner and out I went. They also sell parking passes for the following day if needed. 

Race Day 

The half marathon started at 7:30 so I was dropped off around 7 and made my way to the starting area. The full started at 6 and both the half/full courses circle back towards the start around mile 6 so we all got to cheer on the marathoners as they passed us by.

The start for the half was smooth sailing. I found myself near a 1:55 pacer and ran with them knowing full well that I haven't been able to run that fast in a few years or so. LOL. I knew it was too fast a pace to keep with my training for this race, but I was being stubborn as usual and held on for as long as I could. Apparently that was 7 miles and honestly, it was a glorious 7 miles. I am a crazy person and love rolling hills and turns and for the first 7 or so miles, there are a lot of it. I had a blast running along the course and seeing all the sights for those first set of miles.

Then, at mile 7, it straightens out and you're just along the beach for 3 miles before you make your way back towards the finish. That part was brutal. Since the race started at 7:30 am, by the time I got to mile 7, it was around 8:30 and the sun was out beating down on us with no shade. Luckily, I brought shades and a visor, but yeahhhh, I was pretty drained from the sun. For miles 10-12, I was on the struggle bus. I started run/walking and beating myself up for not being faster. I also forgot my flip belt and body glide, which meant that I was holding my phone the entire race AND got some unwanted chafing. No bueno. :( Luckily, my friend was stationed at mile 12 and once I saw her, I quickened my pace and headed to the finish. HOORAY! 

I didn't get to enjoy much of the post-race festivities as I was super duper tired and couldn't reach anyone due to low cell reception. I did enjoy the coconut water, which I chugged down in a minute. LOL. 

Pro tips

Bring a hat/shades for that stretch along the beach. If it's not overcast, the sun will take a toll on your body (unless you train in a hot climate). 

If you are planning on meeting anyone, make sure to have a plan before you race. That way, they know where to meet you. Due to the congestion of all the runners, cell reception is extremely poor and I didn't get reception until I left the area. 

If you are planning on getting picked up, walk a few blocks out of the convention center. Your driver will 100% appreciate it as there is quite a bit of traffic due to the road closures. 

Enjoy the course! When I wasn't beating myself up about being faster, I had a lovely time! LOL.

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(2019)
"A Humbling Half Marathon "
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If I could describe the San Diego Craft Classic in one word, it would be humbling. I had run the Craft Classic before when it was in July and I remembered it being okay. It was a bit of a challenge, but I remember doing well enough that I didn’t think about preparing much going into the race. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

The morning of the race, I wasn’t feeling particularly confident, but thought it’d be fine. I wasn’t planning on PRing or anything and I knew there’d be hills so there’d be no reason to race 110% just to die at the hills. The humidity was high and I vaguely remember it being similarly humid two years ago when I last ran it. Although last time, I had a hydration vest, which is what I should have done this time around.

Fast forward to the start of the race. I, of course, started out way too quickly. I was at the start of the wave and since the first part of the race is somewhat bottle necked, I took this opportunity to stay ahead of the wave. Mistake #1. I clocked my first mile in at a sub 8. Shit I thought. “I need to slow down.” Only I didn’t. I was trying to push through and tell myself that it’s only 12 more miles and that it’d be over before I knew it. Mistake #2.

It wasn’t.

The first half of the course is predominantly downhill and if you don’t pace yourself, you will burn out like I did in the second half. Did I mention that the second half is mostly uphill? Yep. I knew that going in too because my bib outlined the course elevation perfectly and I was just too dumb to ignore it. Not to mention, the humidity was destroying my body’s ability to regulate temperature. I was sweating, but because it was humid, the sweat wasn’t evaporating and I wasn’t cooling down. So I tried to take it easy the second half. I walked up most hills and struggled to run even down some. At mile 12, there is one last major hill and of course, my body freaked out. My chest had tightened and honestly, I was angry as hell. I was upset I wouldn’t finish the race. LOL. I walked up most of the hill, took deep breaths, and luckily, the tightness disappeared. I was able to jog to the finish post-hill and whew, I was exhausted. I chugged water at the aid stations and was taking in whatever electrolytes they had. I had to pass on the free beer, but was glad to see friends have their fill of it. After 30 minutes in the shade, I felt better and even took part in their free massages, which I would highly recommend post-race.

A few days before the race, I had gotten a migraine that lasted about 2 days. I thought I was dehydrate or going through caffeine withdrawal so I took some advil and drank lots of water. The migraine had lessened on Saturday so I figured I’d be okay.

Bib Pick Up was at Road Runner Sports so I quickly drove down, got my bib, my cute “One a beer run” tank, my pint glass, and was on my way. This race isn’t huge so there really isn’t an expo, but since it’s held at a running shoe store, there’s usually some type of discount given to runners at the store. In this case, it was 20% off.

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(2019)
"A bucket list half crossed off! "
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It's been almost a week since I raced the Garry Bjorklund half marathon and oh how I want to say so much about how amazing this race is, but to prevent you from having to read my ramblings, I'll try to keep it as short as I can while also doing the race justice.

Housing: I only planned on staying a night and most places require a minimum 2 night stay so a friend told me about housing at a dorm. Luckily, Marshall school allowed for a 1 night stay and it was super close to the buses that would take us to the start. They even provided everyone with a runner friendly breakfast the morning of the race and bags of ice for those who needed to ice their legs post-race.

Expo: The expo was held at the DECC (Duluth Entertainment Convention Center) and it's quite an experience. They have an AYCE pasta dinner that runners can attend in the first huge room. There are tables set up with bread and you just pay, file in, and eat to your stomach's content. You then walk through the main expo to pick up your bib and race packet. Since the race is on Saturday, they do keep the expo open until 10 pm that night. Perfect for an out of town racer like myself. 

Course: It is BEAUTIFUL out there. Coming from the west coast, I was amazed and how green everything was. Yes, I know. I'm showing my CA roots. LOL. The half starts in the middle of the full marathon course and starts at 6:15 am, a full hour and 30 min before the full. This allows most of the half marathoners to cross the finish line before any full marathoners make it there. 

For most of the course, you're running along Lake Superior and at each mile marker, there would be balloons flying high in the sky indicating that you had passed another mile. I loved that part about the race. When I struggled to get to the next mile, it gave me a sense of hope to see those balloons flying high. 

The elevation of this course was a little deceiving. Going in, I honestly thought it'd be flat as a pancake. It was not. Both the half and full are full of rolling hills. They're not tough hills, but they're hills nonetheless and there were moments where I had to pump my arms to get through them.

Course support was well spread throughout the course. I got water when I needed and there were enough aid stations that I could skip some and get the next one. There were plenty of spectators and even some neighbors who came out, grilled hot dogs or bacon, and were handing them out to runners. :) If you checked out my IG story last weekend, you'll know that I grabbed a piece of bacon along the course (probably my favorite moment). 

Finish line: The race finishes right next to the lake. A lot of runners (not me), will jump into the lake to cool off their legs. Once you cross the finish line, you'll be awarded your finisher medal, your finisher shirt, food and drink, and make your way through the finisher's festival. Everyone gets a drink ticket for beer and there are food vendors available for you know...everyone who just ran a half or full. :) I came across a tent that was just giving away decently sized pork portions to runners and much smaller portions to non-runners. LOL.

Hospitality: The Duluth community really do cater to the runners that come in from all over the place. There were signs everywhere inviting runners to come visit and I don't think I met anyone mean. :) 

Final thoughts: This race is not a cheap one especially if you're a solo traveler like I was. AirBnB prices and hotels often have a 2 night stay minimum the weekend of this race so book early if you're looking to save or plan a racecation with friends to ease the cost. Flying there is also not always the most economically friendly if you're from the West Coast. I flew into Minneapolis and drove to Duluth (3 hours there and 2.5 hours back) to make things a bit economically friendlier for myself.

That being said, this race was a super fun one. I flew in the day before the race and was EXHAUSTED AS F***, but the race managed to keep my spirits up and I enjoyed every moment of it. I had a great time catching the sunrise right before the race, running along the massive lake, seeing all the amazing supporters along the way, and eating all the food people handed to me. LOL. I'd do it again and hopefully next time, I can do the full. :) 

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(2019)
"A local favorite!"
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Yes, that's right. You read that header correctly. In 5 years almost to the day, I have completed 25 half marathons plus some other races and it all started with Rock N Roll San Diego.

It gave me such a good experience the first time around that I kept choosing to run it again and again and two days ago, I completed it for the 4th time.

Looking back on it, I really believe the reason I continued to race half marathons was because of this race.

Rock N Roll San Diego just knows how to put on a good time and after having a ton of pre-race anxiety, this was just what I needed.

Let's summarize shall we? :)

Pre-race: I stayed with friends that lived close to a trolley station and at 4:30 am, we were out the door to get to SDCCU stadium. We then took a 15 min trolley ride to the Little Italy trolley stop and briskly walked about a mile to the start giving us a nice warm up. We arrived, gear checked, my friends did their porta potty thing, and chit chatted for about 30 min until the start of the race at 6:15 am.

Race:

The start - The race started on time, but due to there being so many corrals, it took quite a bit of time to release everyone. I was in corral 8 and I started at 6:30 am. This year, they had a new design to release runners more slowly. They had gates that funneled everyone through narrower paths so only a 10 runners or so could be released and get a running start to the official start line. This made the first 0.25 miles easier to run through because there weren't as many runners to maneuver around. I appreciated them, but I think others were annoyed.

The course - Starting out, I was a bit nervous. My plantar fasciitis still wasn't terribly better and although I was running through it, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to complete the race. Fast forward two miles and everything started to move more quickly. My plantar wasn't acting up as much and when we entered Hillcrest, I could see all the drag queens in colorful wigs and boobs screaming up and down for us. LOL. It's one of my favorite parts of the race. Then up and down we go for a mile or two before we hit the blue mile, where runners are encouraged to wear blue to remember our fallen military heroes. I had run through this section the past three times I ran it and this was probably the first time I truly looked at the photos and honestly, it tugged at my heartstrings seeing all those young men and women who were killed in action.

Shortly after, the unofficial alcohol stations starting popping up and every year, I swear more and more start popping up. I counted maybe 4 or 5 houses that brought their A game (and by A game, I of course mean Alcohol). Some neighbors were providing shots of whiskey, some donuts and whiskey, some were handing out beer, and some were making some unidentified drink. :) I did not partake as I did not want to throw up, but seeing them definitely brought a smile to my face. I even saw a Doctor Who themed alcoholic station!

The latter half of the race was kind of a blur, but I do remember how I felt at different parts of the course in previous years.

At mile 1.5 where I started out too fast one year and had forgotten about the rolling hills.

At mile 7 where I had started walking and crying because it had gotten so warm.

Around mile 11 where I had seen a friend and she ran with me the rest of the way encouraging me to continue.

At mile 12.5 where I had run with a friend for her first half marathon and she was so in the zone, I told her to keep going without me.

And of course at the finish line, where I had finished 3 times prior.

It's hard for me to put into words how I felt during the race, but maybe the word that best describes it is JOY.

I started this race with the sole intention of trying to finish. I had no time goal and no expectation to run fast. And then I went out, enjoyed the course, even played some Pokemon Go, and ran my 6th fastest half marathon (Official time: 1:58:50). If that's not a win, I don't know what is. 

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(2019)
"Running Injured to get that Hot Chocolate"
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And BOOM, I finished the Hot Chocolate 15k this past weekend and oh my god, I was in a bit of pain. Let's start from the beginning, shall we?

On Saturday, I did a short 3 mile shake out run in the morning. My heel was still hurting so I picked up OS1st foot brace compression sleeve. It was recommended to me by the running coach so I decided to give it a shot. I then picked up my bib at the expo, got my sweet new jacket that came with registration, and talked to my favorite vendor peeps (Aftershokz, Honeystinger). I then ran a few errands and foam rolled, massaged, and stretched my legs for the rest of the day.

Sunday morning, I woke up early, put on my foot brace compression sleeve, took 2 Advils to alleviate any potential inflammation, and out the door I went. I felt okay at the start of the race, but that quickly changed about 1 mile in the race. For those of you who don't know, the Hot Chocolate 15k in San Diego is a challenging course. It makes you earn that chocolate and honestly, it's not terrible if you trained for it...or aren't injured.

The start of the race begins on a hill and for almost the entire race, it's rolling hills. And much like the hills, my emotions were also up and down. Due to my heel issues, my legs tried compensating in other ways, resulting in overuse of other muscles. This caused way more pain than I'd like so throughout the entire race, I seriously doubted if I could finish. In retrospect, I pushed myself harder than I should have. Every time I walked, I saw my 17+ min/mile pace and panicked that I wouldn't have been able to finish. I ended up finishing around a 10:30 min/mile pace so really, I had nothing to worry about.

I saw friends along the course and on two separate occasions, I burst into tears because I was so happy to see people come out and support me. I was mentally and physically in pain and seeing familiar faces made the race more bearable.

The race is a great one. The energy is high and the course is challenging enough that you'll really feel like you've earned that chocolate. :) I love the jacket this year and honestly, who wouldn't love chocolate at the end of the race.

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