Latest reviews by Randy Birnschein

(2021)
"Hop onboard the pain train, but SO worth it!"
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WHAT AN EXPERIENCE! I was fortunate enough to be named a race ambassador by Blue Ridge this year after training all of 2020 and not getting to run. I just didn't have it in me to run a virtual marathon, so I used the training to PR a half marathon instead. Obviously, it's nice to have my race comped, but it was such a privilege to spread the word about the closest marathon to my house. After now having run it, I can confirm it's a great race!

First, let me say a little about Roanoke. It's such a cool little city. It has lots of charm and plenty to do. The course allows you to see the best of it, for sure. There were limitations on spectators due to COVID, but soooooo many amazing people were outside their houses and on their porches cheering on runners. It's so nice when you have total strangers taking time to come out and give you a boost (or a mimosa, or a beer, or a donut). I can't say enough about how that pulls me through the tough miles.

The course itself is TOUGH. I mean, they call it "America's Toughest Road Marathon", so you should know what you're getting into when you sign up.

You get about a mile of nice and flat to get the blood flowing and warm up. After that, the climbing begins. There are 4 MAJOR climbs: Up Mill Mountain (partially up), Up Roanoke Mountain, up Mill Mountain to the Roanoke Star and a neighborhood called Peakwood. The good news is that what goes up, must come down. If you like to fly down some hills, you'll get your chance. The face finishes flat. That's pretty nice.

This race was not without some difficulties (goes for all marathons though haha), but I really had a great one. It was so refreshing to not have a Boston Qualifier on my mind, cause I had literally ZERO shot of a BQ on this course. I just took it all in....the people, the beautiful scenery, the mimosas, the beer, the donuts.....all of it. I really left it all out there.

During the race when I realized that I was going to finish under 4 hours, I was quite content. After finishing, when I surprisingly heard my name called for an age group award, I was through the roof! The award is a railroad spike with arms and legs welded on....AWESOME!

The next day, I felt like I was hit by a train, so it was definitely fitting to get the railroad spike award.

Another perk of Blue Ridge were the free race photos. I'm pretty sure this is the best one I've ever gotten. My fierce determination to crush a rival runner is captured so perfectly!

The joy was definitely worth the ride on the pain train. I hope to participate at Blue Ridge again for years to come and I hope that you'll join me!

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(2020)
"Red, White and Blue for the win!"
Overall
Race Management
SWAG
Virtual Support

Virtual races can be an excellent motivator. Sometimes we just need to mark a date on the calendar to give us that something we need to push us a bit. We get to pick the course. We get to pick the time of day. Most everything is pretty much up to us.

The big differentiator when it comes to virtual races is the SWAG. America Runs definitely had it going on when it comes to that. First off, when red, white and blue is your color scheme, you're already on the right track! We got a cool shirt, a trucker hat, AND a stainless bottle. The medal was cool too and for a bonus there was a honey stinger waffle that went SO well with my coffee. :)

My stuff did show up a bit late, but it was worth the wait for sure.

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(2019)
"The Grand Slam. All 4 races in 3 days!"
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T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
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Elevation Difficulty
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Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Runner’s World Half and Festival as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

Here I am. Back to work on a Monday after an action packed weekend. Tight legs and a less than normal stride. I feel kinda like I just ran 26.2, because I DID RUN 26.2! I just didn't do it the old fashioned way. I spaced it out over 3 fun-filled days at the Runner's World Half and Festival in Bethlehem, PA. (I started this on Monday, but this one took some time since I had so much to say!)

The weekend started on Thursday (I love when that happens) with a drive up to sweet, delicious Hershey, PA. I didn't eat a whole lot of chocolate this time, but I completed my first objective for this trip by trying the AMAZING Hershey Chocolate Porter made by Yuengling.

My hosts on Thursday, Michael and Camden (plus Lacey and Parker!) took great care of me! We went out to eat at a barbecue (bar-bq?) place and I couldn't decide what to get, so I got EVERYTHING.

I said my goodbyes on Friday morning and headed to the little town of Bethlehem. I arrived for packet pickup and collected my long sleeved tech shirt AND my 1/4 zip! They had socks or hats for the other race combos and I kinda wanted those too. One guy thought they were all for us, but he was quickly corrected haha.

Parking was a piece of cake. The expo was small, short and sweet. I walked through several booths with info and products (I did try the beer) and there was some pretty cool merchandise available for purchase. Altra, the main sponsor of the festival, had shoes available and at a great price! They were extremely helpful and knowledgeable people too. I was fortunate enough to speak at length with Golden Harper, the founder of Altra! His story is incredible...more about that later.

Next, I took a short shuttle to the start of the 3.8 mile trail run and hung out there for a while. Golden gave a "Trail Running 101" discussion and it was quite helpful I thought. I kept some of it in mind as I was running. There was a great combination of speedies and more casual runners out on the course. I was somewhere near the middle of the front (makes total sense, right?). Afterward there was delicious pizza and they were practically begging me to eat more! Funny side note: After that grand feast from Thursday, I didn't eat a single meal until the pizza at around 4:00. I went full snake mode! They do say that pre-race fueling and nutrition start days before the race. :)

After the race I stopped by my Air BnB (it was about 1.3 miles from the festival/5k/10k/half marathon start lines) to clean up and then had the privilege of being invited to a special Happy Hour with Runner's World folks and several other runners. The host was Altra founder Golden Harper! He told us his background and how Altra came to be. It was all very interesting to hear and I was impressed with Golden's genuine desire to keep runners running healthy and help us to maintain the strength and shape of our feet, which are so important. I tried on some Altra Escalante Racers and loved the way they felt. I should have some coming my way soon! I made sure to let him know that I've been running in Altras for a long time and showed off my classic "The Ones". :)

I finished my Friday up with a beer or two and a French Dip. I heard that's what Eliud Kipchoge had just before breaking the 2 hour marathon.

Saturday morning I was up bright and early to run both a 5k AND a 10k (5k started at 8:00, 10k at 9:30). I told myself that I had lots of running to do and that I wouldn't go too hard. Of course, I went too hard. Mile 1 was what I had in mind at a 7:13, but the rest was run at a 6:30 pace or faster. Oopsie donkey.

At the finish, I had the typical post-race snacks. I had some water, a banana, a Honey Stinger waffle and some sort of oat bar thing. I was STEAMING and I wish I had gotten a picture. Some lady thought I was vaping haha. I was a little tight and worn out, so it was hard to envision running a 10k in an hour from then, but that's what I did.

I gave a solid effort for the 10k, but I definitely felt like I had already raced. I did a better job of keeping in mind that I had a half marathon to run the next morning and that I likely wasn't going to win an AG medal (the best I did was 7th AG...there were plenty of speedies around). I walked around the Steel Stacks for a while and tried to loosen up my tight, dead legs. Bethlehem steel is a huge piece of American history!

Saturday after cleaning up, I went to a couple of seminars. One of which was about shoes and gear (of course) and the other was a crash course in the half marathon course. It was cool to get the inside scoop on the course from runners that had already tackled it. There were plenty of other seminars too, it's a FESTIVAL after all. While those were going on, there were kids' runs and a DOG run outside. I missed the kids, but I did check out the doggies. They were awesome.

Later on, I was fortunate enough to attend the pasta dinner that was offered as an option for both runners and their friends/loved ones. It was a nice setting where regular runner types (like me) were co-mingled with various people tied to Runner's World. I was fortunate enough to sit with some very awesome people, including Runner In Chief, Jeff Dengate. He was such a cool guy. We talked running, life, kids, getting old, and all kinds of stuff. I enjoyed hearing his story and taking in what he had to tell me about running.

Saturday evening I did the ol' beers and baseball thing, but went to bed at a pretty reasonable time of 10:15. I just about got a full 8 hours of sleep, but all night I was bothered by a bit of a tight hamstring. I'll admit that I was worried.

Sunday morning came and mentally I was pretty excited for another run. Physically, I felt a little sore, but I figured I'd get through it. My plan was to warm up for the first mile or two and just run by feel. I had no time goals in mind and just wanted to enjoy myself. One little side note: For the first time, I ran a distance race with no music. I didn't bring any. That was a leap of faith of sorts, but I'm REALLY glad I chose to just listen to the sounds of the race for a change. I recommend it. :)

So much for just warming up...Mile 1: 7:05, Mile 2: 7:03. That was faster than I'd planned. Doubt crept in a bit. I knew there were climbs starting around mile 3 so I slowed it down. My miles through mile 9 ranged from 7:27 to 7:47. I didn't want to blow up. Once I passed mile 9, I knew the worst of the climbing was over and I felt better (thanks, caffeine) so I kicked it in gear a little. The crowd helped too. I finished with miles of 6:56, 7:08, 6:55 and 7:08. The last tenth mile was at a 6:00 pace, cause you've gotta give the crowd a little somethin'.

I did it! I was a Grand Slammer! 26.2 miles over fun filled days. No regrets. :)

All in all I was pretty happy with my overall effort. The festival was a GREAT time. The event(s) were well organized, lots of fun and so great for the running nerds in all of us. I highly recommend giving it a shot, whether you're interested in one race, or the whole sh-bang!

Sorry for such a long review, but it WAS four runs hehe. For those of you that just scan to the bottom, here's the quick review:

Packet Pickup/Parking: Easy.

SWAG: Awesome.

Course(s): Mostly through town, rolling hills, a few moderate climbs in the half marathon. Fairly entertaining and scenic. Awesome flat finish.

Extra-Curriculars: Plenty!

Post-Race Food: Pizza for the trail run. Typical stuff for the other races. Beer unlimited (Sam A. and Dogfish Head)

Overall: I recommend and would love to make it back. I'll drag my friends with me next time.

Co-workers will notice my 1/4 zip and ask me about it. Muah ha ha.

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(2019)
"75 Point to Point Miles...and BEER!"
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I could probably write all day about what an amazing time this race was. It was my first relay experience, but it won't be my last. In fact, we are already signed up for next year for this one! Act quickly if you're interested, cause it really sells out fast. I'll dive into some details now.

We arrived at Highland Brewing Company in Asheville for packet pickup. It was basically a party there. There was good beer (some of it was free) and food trucks available with some AMAZING choices. There were over 300 teams!

Asheville was a really fun place. There are breweries everywhere and the people watching can't be beat.

Team start times are staggered, based on expected paces. We drew a 6:00 start. You are allowed up to 6 runners on a team, but we only had 4. Next time, I'll want 6 haha.

At the start, the only issue was a lack of porta-potties. There were bathroom trailers, which are nice, but there weren't enough of them. The race is divided up into 12 legs, with the shortest being around 4 miles and the longest being near 10. I drew the short straw for my team and had to run 25 total miles.

The course was well marked and separate driving directions were provided to get from checkpoint to checkpoint. It was so fun to see the team vehicles all decked out. You're given a snap bracelet to use as a "baton" for your team.

The course has some challenging legs to say the least, but nothing TOO crazy. All in all, the course keeps things interesting.

The race finishes in Greenville, SC and the after party is excellent. There's free beer and a great food selection too. A lot of people are there to have a good time and it shows.

I was amazed at how well organized the race was, especially for how complicated a relay can be. The organizers deserve a ton of credit.

SWAG was great too. The t-shirt is cool and comfy, the pint glass is really unique compared to what I normally get and the bottle opener medal is my go-to bottle opener now.

So, if you want a team aspect to your next race and you're a beer fan, this might be the one for you. I hope it is and I'll see you next year. :)

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(2019)
"Great race and a fun city to match!"
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I was accompanied by the friend and co-worker Cody and his wife Katie. I was happy to have them with me for the over 7 hour drive (more like 9, we’ll get to that). This would be Cody’s first half marathon.

The first half of our trip was pretty perfect. We rolled along pretty smoothly, only stopping once for coffee and a potty break then one more time for gas and a driving lunch. In Lynchburg, we have Biscuitville, but in West Virginia they had Biscuit WORLD. As expected, the biscuits were larger and they were AMAZING. I had a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit, but with a hash brown in it. Sorry there’s no pic, it didn’t last long enough.

Our plan was to head to the Maker’s Mark Distillery before getting to Louisville. We had PLENTY of time…until we didn’t. A tractor trailer jackknifed on the highway and blocked both lanes. We sat waiting for nearly 2 hours before finally deciding to off-road it and turn around. We missed the distillery tours completely. This was sad. I wanted to stop in and thank my pals at Maker’s for sending me amazing and sometimes hilarious Christmas presents over the years. Bummer.

Our hotel was not the nicest of hotels, but it was in a prime location. We were about a half mile from the start line and even closer to where packet pickup was. We made our way to pick those up and of COURSE they were giving away whiskey. We had to have just one.

We were in need of food (and maybe a drink or two) so we had good old American food. I went with a cheeseburger and garlic fries combined with a REALLY good stout. We stopped in another bar but called it a night at a fairly reasonable time.

Race day morning, I woke up feeling pretty good. I decided on the Nike Pegagus Turbos for my shoe (you know I have like 12 choices), even though I’d never worn them for a race this long. They didn’t disappoint. They are such a great shoe! I reviewed them actually and you read that here if you’d like.

Cody and I started together but separated quickly. Cody ended up coming in at around 2:01 which was GREAT, especially for his first half marathon. I think he’s already plotting his improvement on that. I didn’t have a particular goal. I just wanted to run hard and see how it went. I weaved my way through a bunch of runner traffic, which is a bit of a rush but does take energy.

Mile 1: 7:02 (that’s a bit fast, but ok cause it feels GREAT)

Mile 2: 6:53, Mile 3: 6:48, Mile 4: 6:47, Mile 5: 6:54 (easy tiger…this feels great but you aren’t exactly trained up)

Mile 6: 7:00 (Dude…are you going to try and PR?!)

Mile 7: 7:10 (This is getting harder by the mile. Maybe you should take something.)

Mile 8: 7:59 (Oh boy. Stop and drink. Take a Gu. BREATHE.)

Mile 9: 7:30, Mile 10: 7:34 (Not even a run through Churchill Downs can speed me up. This is suffering.)

Mile 11: 7:20 (Heading back toward civilization. Time to look good for the spectators, grab some high-fives and slap some signs.

Mile 12: 7:01 (People are watching! I have to pretend that I like this.)

Mile 13: 7:26 (I better save some for the home stretch and finish photos)

Last 0.1: 32 seconds and a 4:39 mile pace haha. (I just HAD to burn a few people at the end. Goes to show I had a bit left in the tank and my brain is the problem.)

Once Cody came in, we had our free post-race beer and headed back to the hotel to clean up. We found food and we found drinks. I did NOT have a mint julep, though my buddy Katie did. She let me try it and it was pretty yummy. My post-race meal was a stuffed baked potato with pulled pork, cheese, sour cream and all that good stuff. I poured a bowl of baked beans on top. The drink of choice was an old fashioned. We toured various bars and saw a giant baseball bat. The Louisville Slugger tour was not all that great, but no ragrets (not even a single letter). The highlight of everything was probably some candied bacon that an awesome random stranger bought us (thanks Tony!).

We ended up having a great time at a piano bar (those are fun!) and then toughing out a long drive back to VA. I highly recommend this race and Louisville in general. We had so much fun (and food). I’ll definitely consider this one again!

Last, but not least we have the medal and a little somethin’ somethin’ extra. It’s PERSONALIZED WHISKEY! I won mine (thank you Twitter) but I believe they were $30. That’s not bad at all in my opinion. 🙂

AWESOME, right?

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