Latest reviews by Stacia Brink-Koutroumpis
This was the 3rd annual running of this race. It takes place in the town where I live, with the start/finish line less than 2 miles from my home. I didn’t run it the first year, but during its second year, I volunteered to work at a water stop during this race. This year, I had the opportunity to run it and to volunteer as a Pacer for the 3:00 time slot. I’ve always wanted to try pacing a half marathon, so I jumped at the opportunity.
Leading up to the race, there were lots of opportunities for training runs, training group programs, and run clinics. They were sponsored by both the race and various local gyms and trainers.
The race expo was held in the minor league baseball stadium that also served as the start/finish line. It took place both Thursday and Friday night before the race. Various vendors as well as the tents passing out bibs and t-shirts were set up on the concourse of the stadium, above the seats where you would watch a game. It was small and easy to maneuver about to get your race items, and they strategically set up bibs and t-shirts at opposite ends so that you’d have to walk past all the vendors (including physical therapists and chiropractors, food trucks and breweries) to obtain your items.
The race took place Saturday morning, and since I was pacing, I had a VIP pass for the day. As I arrived at the ballpark, the line to park was starting to grow. I showed my VIP parking pass on my phone, and it allowed me to bypass the long line, drive around the stadium, and park right at the entrance to the stadium. [Even without a VIP pass, there is ample parking for all participants in the many lots of the facility.] The temperature was in the mid 30s, with a forecast to rise into the 40s by the end of the race. With the chill, it was nice to be able to tuck into the VIP area, which took place in the visiting team’s locker area. We had indoor restrooms, coffee, bananas, Kind Bars, water, and Huma gel to load up on before we went out to the start line. There were even showers available to us post race, if we wanted to use them. I loved being able to wait out of the chill until five minutes before go time!
As 7:15 neared, we headed out and found our spots in the corral. We met some people who had found us, people who would be running along with us, having 3:00 as their time goal for the race. A young girl sang the national anthem, and a helicopter hovered over us, taking pictures.
At 7:10, Ainsley’s Angels (the wheelchair racers) took off, and we were right behind them at 7:15. We left from the front of the stadium near where I had parked and made a big loop around the facility. By the time we finished the loop, we were already a little pack of 3:00 runners, about six of us, having introduced ourselves to each other and chatting about this and that.
The first mile took us through a hilly neighborhood across the street from the park and onto a short greenway into another neighborhood. That greenway had a wooden bridge that was really slippery. We had to gingerly walk across it, and we were still sliding all over it. The first waterstop was in the cul-de-sac that we popped out on from the greenway. This is a regular running route of mine with pretty houses lining the streets. We were then back on another short greenway with some hills through Veterans’ Park. Back onto a street for a few seconds, and then the greenway picked up again through yet another park, this time through a wooded area and a disc golf course.
Mile 3 took us through downtown Holly Springs, and mile 4 took us into yet another park, Womble Park, which was full of people. I saw friends at several spots in the park, and as we came out the back of the park, the leaders of the race were making their way back to the finish line, giving us about a mile of overlap where we could cheer on these fasties. We turned into another neighborhood and entered yet another greenway. This greenway was paved and downhill until we entered the Bass Lake complex. We turned right to run counterclockwise around the lake. The trail around the lake is wide and mulch covered, and the surface is very soft, almost like running in sand in some spots. There was also a lot of mud, as it had rained a lot during the week, and the trail is just feet away from the water’s edge. Most of the lake trail is flat, but there is a section, maybe a quarter mile long, where there are some steep uphills and the trail becomes single track. Even though we were weaving around trees and switchbacks, the trail was fairly smooth with few tree roots or stones to interfere with your footing. There was a water stop at the top of this hill, then we ran back down to the water’s edge to finish the lake loop. At this point, we picked up some more runners to join our group. They were chatty and brought even more energy to the pack.
Leaving the lake, the course takes you up the steepest hill of the race, also on single track, into Sugg Farm, a former farm now owned by the town and used as park land. It’s a beautiful place to run, but the lake and the farm are also the most challenging parts of this race. I was happy to finally be back on a road surface as we reached the top of the farm.
From that point, we retraced our steps back to the start/finish line. We came upon several people in the Ruck Division of the race. I really admire these men and women who get out and participate with a heavy pack on their back, especially the small women! The rules for the Ruck Division are that you must carry 25 pounds on your back, no matter your size or gender. That race began at 6:45 so that those racers could finish around the same time as other participants.
As we re-entered the ballpark, we urged our runners to go on and get in under 3:00. All but one of them did; she chose to ride it out and stick with us. We walked slowly for much of the last quarter mile, picking it up to a slow jog as we entered the uphill finishing chute. Our finish time: a stellar 2:59:18.
At the finish area, I had a pint of my favorite beer, an IPA made by one of my favorite breweries right here in my town, Bombshell Brewery (owned by three women). They did have a special beer for the race, which they named “Runner’s High.” It was pinkish in color, brewed with raspberries, but as they were changing kegs, I was able to substitute the IPA. I walked around the concourse, filled with tents of various vendors and health professionals. I stopped for a free massage and stretch by a chiropractor, which felt awesome. I picked up my free pancakes and sausage breakfast, feeling awesome, drinking an IPA with sausage and maple syrup after running an exact time as a volunteer.
As Doug, my co-pacer, said during our race, this is a “race created for runners by runners.” It really gives you a little of everything: road, paved greenway, mulched trail, and hilly single track. Neighborhoods and parks. Noisy spectators and quiet sections. A little overlap so you can see people running in the opposite direction. For a small race, they provide you with a nice expo, great on-course fuel (Huma gel, Skratch electrolyte drink, water), good post race food, awesome craft beer, a nice medal and a comfy cotton t-shirt. Also of great value are the free race photos! A few of them get attached to your results online, but there are many more available if you look through the upwards of 5800 pictures posted online (www.fireeyestudiosphotography.com). The Holly Springs Run Club founded this race, quite a large and active group for a relatively still small town. The price is definitely worth the value. Right now, to sign up for the November 23, 2018 race, it costs only $50 for the half marathon (and $30 for the 5K). The VIP cost was $25 in 2018. The race website tells that they have donated $45,000 back to the community, including various recreational facilities and opportunities.
The race directors offer the chance to participate in the “Run the Springs Series,” which includes a 5K and a 10K earlier in the year. If you run all three, you receive an exclusive 4th medal in addition to the medals for the individual races.
I definitely look forward to running (and pacing!) this race again in 2019.
I chose to run this race because I wanted a BIG race experience, and I wanted one that was close enough to home that we could drive rather than fly to get there. Plus, I had many friends recommend this to me as an AWESOME race, and they weren't wrong!
The race is fairly expensive but on par with other big city races with this number of participants. Washington, DC/Northern Virginia is also pretty expensive for hotel room prices, and getting to the Expo and the Start/Finish Lines required public transportation. It was fairly easy, but it did require some time researching for someone who is used to getting in her car and going.
The Race Expo was full of great merchandise and vendors. It was also in a nice location, in spite of the metro/shuttle ride to get there, and we were able to have a great lunch 24 hours out from race time. The weather was rainy and chilly pre-race, but the skies cleared, and it was a nice 48-55 degrees with a blue sky for race time.
Course support from the spectators, music, and especially the Marines was fantastic! Views on course were great, ranging from city to forest to national monuments to crewers on the river to the Blue Mile. There were a few out-and-back sections where you could see and interact with other racers face-to-face. The course itself was fairly flat, but, for me, it was challenging due to a constantly cambered road surface riddled with potholes. I'm having my longest marathon recovery ever, and I blame it on the slanted roads.
As a 'mid-to-back of the pack' runner, this was the first marathon I've run that didn't feel slightly desolate in the later miles. Every mile of this race was packed with people and spectators and noise. With no half marathon splitting off, we were all out there for the long haul. The race does feature a 10K (my husband ran it) that overlaps some of the same course, but that race's Start Line if far from the marathon's, and they start at the same time.
The ending of this race is challenging, 0.2 miles up a steep hill. However, what makes up for it is the cheering Marines lining the finish chute and the sweet medal!
I would race the Marine Corps Marathon again without hesitation! If interested in a much longer recount of my race, see my blog, "The Running French Prof," at this link: https://therunningfrenchprof.wordpress.com/2018/11/12/marine-corps-marathon-sunday-october-28-2018/#more-4063.
I first learned about this race from my friends’ Facebook posts, a few friends who had done it the past couple of years. I asked one of them in person about it, and she highly recommended it. She explained that there were two races, one for men and one for women, that the field was small, and that there would be many fast runners. But she also said there were runners of all paces, and that her strategy was just to start in the middle/back of the starting pack, to stay out of the leaders’ way, and to enjoy a one mile PR.
My husband and I decided to sign up for it. I had a previous one mile PR, and I thought it would be fun to see how much faster I could go on a smooth, straight, downhill course.
I registered us about a week ahead of the race for $20 each. Race entry included a Sir Walter Running / Raleigh RunDown coozie that we would receive at bib pick-up.
The women’s race took place at 7:00 pm, and the men’s, at 7:25 pm. At the bib pick-up tent, we got our bibs, coozies, and (a nice surprise) some free t-shirts that were left over from other Sir Walter Running events. We pinned our bibs on and walked back to the car to deposit the swag (we were able to find free parking easily both near the start and the finish line; we chose the finish). Then we walked back to the start line. Our warm up consisted of walking to and from the car, and then we did some skips, high knees, and other running drills to further warm up before the start.
About ten minutes of seven, they announced for all the women racers to gather in the start ‘corral.’ We had timing chips on our shoes, but there was no electronic device at the start to clock our actual chip time (the only device to clock us was at the finish). With such a small field, (fifty-eight women), times would be recorded as gun times only.
At seven, we were off. The race directors had marked each quarter mile with a paint line across the road, and I clicked them off painfully but happily as I crossed each one. I was so glad to see the finish line: a PR for me!
At the finish, they cut the timing chip off our shoes (apparently for future use), I received a bottle of water, and I tried to walk a little to cool down and to stretch. During these few minutes, the sky was turning black, the sun was going away, and a cool breeze was picking up. They decided to move the men’s race up five minutes, in order to hopefully complete it before any storm started.
We were told the men were off at the top of the hill, and I moved to a spot in front of the finish line so I could see my husband’s finish and also his time on the clock. The weather was quickly worsening. The four minute milers started to come into view and then crossed the line. There were 102 men in the field, and I cheered on many of them as they approached the finish line. My husband came into view eventually, and a glance at the clock showed me he was going to also have a nice PR. When he was about thirty feet from crossing the finish line, there was a loud crack of thunder and lightning simultaneously; the timing clock blanked out and displayed 88:88:88:88. He crossed the line, and we booked it to our car in the pouring rain.
The finish line party and rewards ceremony took place at Trophy Brewing, which is located not far from the finish line. This was a fun, summer Friday night and a well organized, small race, at a distance that is not common in this neck of the woods. The downhill elevation loss is an attractive feature. I will do this one again, and I hope more of my friends will join me next year. I’d like to see more runners of all paces come out and participate. While I was initially intimidated by the thought of running in a field composed of so many younger, faster runners, the actual event and the people running it were professional, open, and friendly. It felt as welcoming as any other running event I’ve ever participated in, accommodating of people of all paces and depths of running experience.
The event website can be found at this link: http://sirwalterrunning.com/raleighrundown/.
The link of the organizing group, Sir Walter Running, can be found here: http://sirwalterrunning.com/.
For more race reviews and other running posts, visit my blog, therunningfrenchprof.wordpress.com.
Registration and Parking
I registered for this in April of 2015, right after the race that year, for $50 plus a $10 parking pass. That’s eleven months before the race, knowing that the price goes up, the race sells out, and the parking passes sell out even faster. The race starts and finishes at USA Baseball Park in Cary. The parking is limited to 900 spaces, so for those without a parking pass, they must park at a nearby company and take a 15 minute shuttle to the ballpark. I live on the other side of the park, so it was a quick and easy 20 minute drive for me on an empty highway the morning of the race, with the parking pass.
The Race and the Course
Its official name in 2016 was the Allscripts Tobacco Road Marathon and GNC Half Marathon. They limit the races to 1500 full marathon and 2500 half marathon participants. In 2016, the half was again sold out, and there were limited full marathon spots open during the Expo.
Both races take place on two and a half miles of road near the ballpark and the rest of it on the American Tobacco Trail. Because they need to close the road near the park, race officials put a seven hour time limit on all races.
The ATT is located on the site that was originally developed as the New Hope Valley Railroad in 1905-06. The railroad (and tobacco industry) used this corridor until it was formally abandoned by them in 1979. The tracks, rails, and gravel were removed in 1983. Left behind was a long, straight dirt road. Parts of it were privately owned, and other parts were bought by NCDOT, the city of Durham, and the counties of Durham, Wake, and Chatham. It is now managed and maintained by the Triangle Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
The section that is used for the race is wide enough for about four people to run beside each other; since it is an out-and-back course, race officials on bicycles are good about telling people to keep to the right. It is covered with fine, crushed white gravel that can be sandy in some areas. On any average day, the trail is full of bikers, hikers, runners, and people riding horseback. It is lined with tall trees, mostly pines, and it passes over or next to some swampy, low-lying areas, especially on the southern end near the turn point. Also near the turn point, you run through a tunnel underneath a highway.
There are no running strollers allowed for children, due to the rocky terrain of the trail. However, participants of the organization Ainsley’s Angels of America are able to take part in this race. This group allows members of the special needs community to be included in races, including marathons and half marathons. Volunteers, or volunteer teams, push running chariots that an ‘angel’ can ride in.
The Tobacco Road Marathon (and Half) began in 2010 . It is marketed as a “flat and fast” course, and many people run the race in search of a “BQ” (Boston Qualifying) time. The race website states that up to ten percent of the racers do obtain a BQ. There is a special bell that racers are encouraged to ring at the end of the race if they PR’d or BQ’d. Also, once times are verified, people who Boston Qualify receive a highly coveted race shirt. In 2014, the race was named by Runner’s World Magazine as one of the nine top new marathons.
The full and the half run the same course for 2.5 miles to and from the ATT. The full has 21 miles on the ATT (first running north) and the half has 8 miles on the trail (first running south).
Even though the race is known as being “FLAT and fast,” it really is not flat! While it does not have the steep hills of the various other races that take place in the city of Raleigh or Umstead State Park, it has very long, gradual uphills and downhills. I felt like I was flying on the downhills, as it appears flat and feels easy. I felt like a workhorse on the uphills; my heart was working, and my feet were going but my legs felt heavy. Add in the fact of the crushed gravel, almost like sand underfoot. Most of the time, I felt this as cushiony and energizing underfoot, but every now and then, I would hit a deeper gravel spot, which causes you to readjust your footing, as if you are running on the beach. I’m sure this is part of the abnormal quadricep soreness I felt for two days after the race.
The Race Expo
The race expo for bib pick-up took place at the Embassy Suites Hotel near RDU Airport in Cary. It was easy to get to, even at 5:00 on a Friday, near the Research Triangle Park and Interstate 40 (notorious for horrible rush hour traffic). Parking was free (unlike when expos are held downtown at the convention center). I was in a bit of a rush, so I quickly went in with my bib number memorized so I could avoid having to look it up. I picked up my bib, parking pass, t-shirt, and water bottle easily. The shirts were short-sleeved and technical. It came in women’s and men’s specific sizes and colors, and there were also specific colors for both the half and the full. The water bottles came in clear, blue, and red. All in all, the race had great swag.
I was on the road before six. I arrived at the park (in the new darkness of that hour, the first day of daylight savings) before 6:30 and was able to park easily. I hopped out to stand in the restroom (real plumbing in a building that was part of the baseball facility) line, leaving my pack in the car. I was wearing capri tights and a thin racing singlet. It was in the upper 50s/low 60s. You could already feel the damp humidity in the air. It was a rather long wait, but we did have 90 minutes to kill until race time at 8:00 a.m. (The normal time is 7:00, but with DST, they moved it up for just this year). Then I headed back to my car, put my pack on, and walked the 0.3 miles up the hill to the start area.
At the start area, there were plenty of porta pots without long lines. I walked to check out the beer garden for post-race refreshments. I met some friends, and the four of us hung there until about 30 minutes before race time. We walked out to the start line and chatted there until the national anthem. At three minutes before eight, I activated my gps watch, and we were off. There were no corrals or starting order; you just kind of followed the pacers’ signs, falling in where you felt you should be. We wanted to get with the 2:20 pacer, but it was too packed to make our way there, so we got in behind the 2:30 pacers.
The start line is on a downhill, then there’s a quick uphill to get out of the baseball complex. There are about 2.5 miles of road running before you hit the trails. Things got warm from the start , but because I like heat, it was comfortable for me. The hills before the trail running went well, and once we hit the trails, I felt like I was flying. We had a slight downhill for a long bit, a mile or two (which I knew was going to make the return difficult, and that I really should slow down). Also, the crushed gravel beneath my feet felt awesome. A running coach told me in the past that I would feel more energy than normal while running on this surface . . . and that later or the next day, I would feel more fatigue due to the actual energy being spent. He was not wrong.
At some point in that section going south, the fastest half marathoners began to pass us going north again. Four or five guys and then the first girl. I loved hearing all the runners going in my direction cheer her on with “Go, Girl!”
Momentum was still good for me at that point, even as we hit a long, slow uphill grade. I knew that some friends of ours were probably going to be at the next road/water stop intersection, so I was looking forward to that burst of energy. Sure enough, when we came to the last road intersecting with the trail, we saw a pack of familiar faces.
The turnaround point was just south of that water stop. The friend with whom I was running started to surge ahead of me, and from this point, I was on my own. I saw a few friends who were going north on the return trip ahead of me, and I continued to see others I knew throughout the race on my way back north.
After that, my race reached the stage where it was just Work. Just plain, hard, heart pounding, keep-my-legs-moving, try-to-maintain-a-decent-pace Work. I knew I was on track to finish with a good time if I could keep moving at a decent pace for the rest of the race. There was a lot of gradual uphill grades, and the sandy surface was really becoming fatiguing. Around mile 8-9, the first marathoners started to pass me on their way south. I found it both inspiring (they were so fast! And so fit and lean, most of them running without shirts, men and women, many of them wearing college race singlets from around the country) and tiring (again, they were so fast! ).
I finally reached the right turn onto the road surface. A few hundred meters down the road, a neighborhood had tents set up with loud music and a party atmosphere that sounded fun, and that did give me a little more energy to move. I was able to get my pace going again where I wanted it to be in those last few miles.
Finally I saw the entrance to the ballpark facility, so I knew there was just about half a mile left. Going into the park was a big downhill, and then 0.3 miles uphill to the finish line. The finish came into sight.
I let someone hand me a medal, and I took two bottles of water from a volunteer.
The After Party and My Recovery
After stretching for a few minutes, I walked toward the beer garden. I got in line with a friend for some pizza. In the beer garden, Natty Greene, a local craft brewery, was providing the beer, unlimited glasses of it per runner. I grabbed a wit beer, which tasted amazing.
I hung with some other friends in the beer garden for about an hour. The weather was warm, and the beer kept tasting great. There was a band singing ‘80s cover songs by some of my favorites, Journey and the Outfield. However, as much fun as it was to hang out, it cost me some recovery pain over the next few days. I am usually not sore much at all after a race, just physically fatigued from the effort exerted for a few days. But this time, I was really sore for two days after the race. Normally, I stretch a long time after a race. After this one, I spent a little too much time napping on the couch and was stiff and sore when I did get up to move around.
Will I run this race again?
Definitely! I registered for 2017 as soon as registration opened. I’ll be running the half marathon again on March 19, 2017.
For the full length version of this race recap, see my blog post at https://therunningfrenchprof.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/tobacco-road-race-recap-march-13-2016/.
I was interviewed later that day by a fellow member of an online running group that I am a member of, Marathon Training Academy. He had run the full marathon that morning and wrote an article about it. My quote and his race review can be found at this link:
This is maybe my favorite race of the year because it is SO MUCH FUN. I ran it for the first time last year and knew I was hooked for the rest of my running career. The kilt run takes place on a Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and the 8K race, at 10:30 a.m. The start and finish line is based out of the Raleigh Beer Garden this year, which claims on its website the world’s largest selection of beers on tap. 2120 people were registered to participate in this race in 2016.
Why do I like this race so much?
1. There is a kilt run an hour before the actual race. This was the third time in a row that the race organizers tried to set a Guinness Book of World Records record: the most runners to race in kilts. While they still didn’t make the record (and I’ve heard that this was the last try they were allowed to have), it is still awesome to see all those runners in kilts.
2. I love dressing for St. Patrick’s Day, especially for a race. I have several St. Paddy’s running shirts, green and white striped calf sleeves, shamrock fake tattoos, shamrock arm sleeves, an “I run for beer” green Sweaty Bands headband . . . I’m a little obsessed with the gear!
3. Bagpipes. Irish bands. LOUD Irish bands.
4. Irish wolfhounds. Someone brings these dogs to the race--and they are freaking big, beautiful, gentle dogs.
5. Beer. Lonerider Beer is served at the finish line. Last year, you also got a can koozie for your beer with the race logo. So, cool swag.
6. Speaking of cool swag, one of the best race t-shirts ever. It features Seamus the Leprechaun (I THINK his name is Seamus, but I can’t actually find that anywhere in my research), although this year he was in silhouette. The color, brand, and fit of the shirt this year was a top notch pick.
7. The medal. The ribbon is the Irish flag, and the medal features Seamus. It’s actually half a medal; you get the other half by doing the Oktoberfest 8K in the fall (and Seamus wears Lederhosen on that half).
8. The nOg Run Club. They put this event on, and they are a MEGA run club! I’m not sure of the membership in this club, but its Facebook page has over 2200 members. And when I go to their Monday night runs, there’s always a huge crowd. I’m in awe of Rick and Elizabeth, the leaders/founders of the club and the race directors, and what they have been able to engineer. They also do great charity work, and they are one of the most supportive groups of runners in general in the Raleigh/Wake County running community.
9. The route. While it’s different from last year due to the location change, it goes through a beautiful residential section of Raleigh, leaving from behind the Raleigh Beer Garden. You run on Glenwood Avenue, St. Mary’s Street, and many smaller neighborhood streets east of St. Mary’s. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s an easy five miles, because what it lacks in miles, it makes up for in hills!
10. Location. Although I was sad to see Tir na nOg, the Irish pub where the run club used to congregate on Monday nights, close its doors last fall, I like the new location, the Raleigh Beer Garden. The location is easier to get to for me, but the parking is a little trickier. However, for the race, I do prefer the old location. The former pub was across the street from Moore Square Park. Although not a pretty park, it was a nice, big area to hold this event. This year, things seemed really crowded and a little confusing at the new location.
11. I’m Irish! My Grandpa Sheehan would be happy that I was involved with the great running community that Raleigh has.
I met friends at 10:00 (none of us could make it to the earlier kilt run), and we stood in a short line behind the Beer Garden to show our IDs to get an “over 21” paper bracelet clipped on our wrists.
The race started at 10:30, on schedule, and the Bagpipers serenaded us as we surged across the Start Line. I can’t say enough how happy and inspired I feel when I hear bagpipes (and loud Irish music), especially while running. We raced the five miles up and down the hills of the neighborhood, zig zagging past other streets where you could see other runners well ahead or behind you. You eventually make your way back to the start which has been converted into a finish line.
Post-race, we waited in line for our cans of Lonerider beer (one of my local favorites), and we moved to the top patio on the 3rd floor of the Beer Garden and found a place to stand (in our sweaty clothes) next to an outdoor heater while we finished a second beer. The day was cloudy and cool, in the 50s. This is my favorite race, and I look forward to doing the Oktoberfest 8K in the fall to celebrate my German heritage and to get the other half of the medal!
The website for the race: http://www.nogrunclub.com/stpaddys/
The St. Paddy’s medal (left) and the Oktoberfest medal (right)
(photo credit: http://www.nogrunclub.com/stpaddys/)