Latest reviews by Juan J. Arrieta
Ever since I had heard about this race on a BibRave podcast I began looking into it and put it on my bucket list. It has a great reputation for a having a beautiful and PR-conducive course as well as great support from both the community and race management, so I decided to give it a go this year and I'm happy to have done so.
The expo/packet pickup was held at the Duluth Entertainment & Convention Center (DECC) just a few steps from Lake Superior in Duluth. When we arrived there Friday afternoon around 3pm, there was quite a bit of traffic in line to park in the adjacent garage and nearby lots. The race organizers do warn about this on the emails they send out on the days leading up to the race and recommend getting there either earlier o the day on Friday, or on Thursday instead if at all possible to avoid the larger crowds. Once parked and inside the convention center I walked through the vendors area to pick up my bib and gear bag. There was plenty of staff in hand at clearly marked booths to handle that process quickly; it took me just a minute or two to do so. There was a large selection of vendors all throughout the Expo floor, with all the gear, hydration, or nutrition you probably need to run a race. The front section of the convention center was separated and dedicated for a Michelina's pasta dinner. It's an all-you-can-eat dinner consisting of spaghetti with marinara sauce (with or without meatballs), Caesar salad, and bread, milk, and water. The dinner also includes ice cream, cookies and coffee. All of that is offered for $14 for adults, $7 for kids ages 5 – 12 , and children 4 and under eat for free, so it is a great deal to take advantage of.
Race-morning logistics and start line
Race management wisely has setup a great system of buses to shuttle runners to the starting area, located several miles northeast of Duluth and right on the shores of Lake Superior. There are several pickup locations on race morning throughout the area to accommodate the various locations where runners are staying. You must take one of the shuttle buses, as no other vehicles are allowed near the starting line, and there is no passenger drop-off access to it either. I found this system to be quite convenient and accessible, as one of the pickup locations was just a few blocks away from the Airbnb we were staying at in Two Harbors.
The start time for this half marathons is at 6:15 a.m. and since I caught one of the earlier shuttle buses, I arrived at the starting line with plenty of time. I was able to use the port-a-potties (of which there were plenty), go through my entire warm-up routine, put my warm-up gear in the bag provided by the race, and turn into the gear bag truck before lining up ready to go.
The sun was coming up over Lake Superior at that time and the natural beauty of the area was simply amazing. Weather conditions for racing were absolutely perfect for my preference, with temperatures in the low 50s with very little wind. There were no corrals, just various pacers holding signs with their targeted finish time to help runners start and stay on track.
Course & Support
Once we were off I was able to fairly quickly find a comfortable starting pace I would hold for the first couple of miles. The course was on a road that was completely blocked off to vehicles, so there was plenty of space to move between all the runners. Things did not feel crowded even though there were a lot of us, and that made things very enjoyable as it makes it easier to find the right stride and establish good rhythm. Once I found the pace I was targeting, I was able to hold it an exceeded it for the bulk of the race, including during the one hill climb of note on the course called Lemon Drop Hill. From the distance it appears higher and longer than what it actually is. I was able to just focus on keeping a steady cadence going through it, and before I knew it I was past it.
Over the last couple of miles the course has a number of turns as it approaches the finish area located near the convention center. I had enough energy left to make a strong push in that last stretch and finish just off a minute off my PR time from just one year ago.
The medical aid and hydration stations were very well spread out and placed every couple of miles along the course. They were well staffed with plenty of volunteers handing out Powerade and water as well as energy gels in the later miles.
The finish line had tons of volunteers handing out medals, mylar blankets for warmth, finisher shirts, water, and electrolytes, and food. The entire finish area was very spacious with plenty of room everywhere to sit down, stretch, etc. All runners also got a beer ticket with several quality beers on tap to choose from at an adjacent designated area.
I feel this is a high-quality race, with an impressively beautiful and PR-conducive course. Race management clearly does a great job planning and putting on a memorable event. I would recommend to anyone who is considering it and would be traveling to Duluth, to plan and research lodging accommodations WELL in advance (6+ months at least, if not more), as most hotels there and in nearby areas fill-up very quickly, require a minimum 2-night stay, and charge high rates for race weekend, probably due to the popularity of this race, which fills to capacity/sells out weeks in advance each year.
Disclaimer: I received free entry to the Missoula Half Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro by going to https://www.bibrave.com/bibravepro.
It had been more than a year since I had been training and preparing to run the Missoula Half Marathon. I was actually signed up to run it in 2018, but when the unexpected hospitalization of a close family member ocurred during the week prior to the race, I chose to cancel my plans and defer to this year instead. So needless to say, I was more than looking forward to experience the scenery, course, hospitality, and overall atmosphere that have earned the Missoula Marathon and Half Marathon races top ratings in the BibRave 100 list. The full marathon has been recognized as the #1 race in this exclusive list, and the Half Marathon is on the Top 20 rank among half marathons, so needless to say my expectations were quite high for the entire experience.
Packet Pick-Up/Expo/Beer Run
The expo/packet pickup was held starting on Friday afternoon at Caras Park in downtown Missoula, Montana. Caras has a large, covered pavillion area that accomodates the tents for race packets with bibs, participant shirts, and gear vendors. There are tables organized by last name of participants, clearly marked by white & red signs placed by them, so I quickly knew where to get in line.
The lines moved quickly and I had my bib within just a couple of minutes. I then went to the next tent over and picked up my participant shirt. At first I wasn't sure if I liked its color, but now I do. It is an olive green that I do not have already on my running shirts and know that I will wear in the future, so it is a welcome addition to my collection.
There was plenty of race personnel on hand at the expo; very friendly and helpful to answer any questions I had, such as specifics on the logistics for race morning, etc. I was also able to check out some of the merchandise being sold by vendors and really liked most of it. Loved the designs and selection and had a hard time not buying several items I wanted, in particular from Runner's Edge.
Then it was on to the Beer Run on Friday evening (6:00 p.m.); a tradition of marathon weekend. It is a 3.1 mile social/fun run around Missoula, with a course that crosses the Clark Fork River and then tours runners through a nice route along the University of Montana campus. I had a blast goofing around with other runners at the Griz statue in the middle of campus before we returned to Caras Park, then joined the party and live entertainment, which included free beer for all finishers over 21, compliments of Big Sky Brewing Company.
Volunteering at the 5k on Saturday
Friday evening I had the opportunity to meet the race director and decided to volunteer to help out on Saturday morning for the 5K. They still needed a few volunteers to help with road crossings/traffic control at various points along the course. I felt I would have fun doing that and at the same time help give back to this running community I was already enjoying. And that is exactly what happened. We had great weather and a great turnout of runners as well, and I can't say enough how enthusiastic most of them were as they would go by the intersection I was covering, thanking me for helping out, expressing their appreciation.
Farmer's market and afternoon hike
After volunteering at the 5k I headed back to Caras Park to check out the Farmer's Market and eat breakfast. While there I met with some friends and joined them afterwards for a hike at a nearby state park. Both the park and the weather were great, so we had quite an enjoyable afternoon taking in the great outdoors and connecting with nature.
After the hike we decided to head to Big Sky Brewing Company, where fellow BibRave Pro Zenaida Arroyo joined us to sample some of their great selection of beers.
The half marathon course is point-to-point, starting at an area with no parking available for participants, so the race provides buses that shuttle runners to the start. Bus loading times were from 4:15 a.m. to 5:15 a.m. at the Adams Center in the University of Montana campus. I took an Uber from the AirBnB where I was staying to the Adams Center, and was able to load and ride a shuttle bus to the start at 5:00 a.m.
The ride to the starting line took approximately 15 minutes. That left me plenty of time to go through my warmup routine, change to my race gear, drop my gear bag, and even meet some friends for some pre-race jokes and pictures.
The starting area was quite spacious to stretch and warm-up and had plenty of port-a-potties where I didn't notice very long lines on them at any one point.
The weather was perfect at our 6:00 a.m. start with temps in the low 50s with very little wind. It was all quite memorable with fireworks and a cannon blast, immediately followed by a gorgeous view of green rolling hills; something truly scenic.
Within just a few minutes, we were on a downhill slope, and I was able to get into a fast yet easy and comfortable rhythm. There were a lot of runners around me, but I had no problem finding a good straight line to run on without having to dodge or run around anyone. The course then started following the banks of the Bitterroot river and everything around me felt like out of a movie. Truly picture perfect. With those conditions I was able to get into focus on my pace and rhythm, and sustained it until approximately mile 10.
At that point I felt fatigued and found it more difficult to keep up with my target pace over the last 3 miles. However, training and experience helped me to just keep the legs moving in that last portion and not stress about my sliding pace. That mindset ended up paying off as I was still able to finish under 2 hours at 1:58:10.
I felt that the support on course was outstanding with plenty of helpful and cheerful volunteers and tables, all well-stocked with both water and electrolyte drink (Powerade). They were also well marked and spaced out every couple of miles or so.
The finish line had plenty of volunteers handing out medals. There were large metal tubs on one of the sides full of ice and soda, water, and Powerade. After hydrating for a few minutes I headed to the adjacent Caras Park to enjoy the post-race food, music, and stretch. There was plenty of room to find a spot, be comfortable, and relax. Before heading out, I went by an area where race photographers were taking pictures of finishers with their medals against a banner backdrop. This and all the other pictures taken by race photographers are included free with race registration, something which is an OUTSTANDING benefit that not many races do.
I feel this is a neat and different style of race that is definitely worthy of its top rankings on the BibRave100 list. It is extremely well organized, has thousands of participants, but still has a small-town, friendly atmostphere and feeling to it from beginning to end. I liked the area and entire race weekend so much that I plan on returning with my family next year as part of a road trip out West. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who hasn't had an opportunity to experience it yet.
I had my eye on the REVEL race series for a long time and was finally able to work it into my plans to run the Mt. Charleston Half this year. While I'd read and heard positive things about them, such as fast, mostly downhill courses, great support, and beautiful scenery, many of those same reviews also advised to prepare properly for running such a long distance on a decline; that it is a different challenge altogether from running other road races.
The expo/packet pickup was held at the Cox Pavilion in the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus, which is approximately a 10-minute drive from the center of the Las Vegas Strip. The process to collect the bib was fast and simple, with little or no lines and no waiting at all. Just had to show my photo ID and interestingly, sign a statement promising not to disturb the desert tortoises that are native to the area. They are an endangered species and disturbing them can scare them and make them pee too much, which can in turn lead them to dehydration and potentially their death. The desert tortoise is also the race's official symbol/logo and used on the medal and official race merchandise.
After getting my bib, I picked up the tech shirt included in the race swag. I love its color, design, and material and feel like will be using it quite a bit in the future. In addition to the tech shirt, the race also included a pair of GOODR sunglasses; you could choose between the gray and black ones. I found that to be an amazing addition, as those sunglasses generally retail for about $30 and are quite popular with a lot of people.
There was plenty of race personnel on hand, very friendly and helpful to answer any questions I had, such as specifics on the logistics for race morning, etc. In addition, there were several areas with great looking race banners for photo ops.
As far as the amount and variety of vendors, I would say this is one of the smallest expos I have ever attended. My guess is that there were approximately 12-13 vendor booths at most, and I was able to get through the two rows in about 10-15 minutes. I didn't necessarily mind this, as I had all the gear and nutrition I needed for the race and wasn't looking to buy anything in particular. However, I know that isn't always the case, as sometimes having a large Expo with tons of vendors and options/bargains on gear is one of the things a lot of us look forward to on a race.
If you are one of those people who have a hard time either going to bed VERY early or waking up way earlier than normal, this may not be the race for you. The start time for both the full and half marathons is at 6:00 a.m., at a location up on Mt. Charleston, and because of the road closures for the race, you can only reach those start lines on the buses provided by the race. The half marathon bus loading times start at 3:15 a.m. and end at 4:15 a.m. at a Walmart parking lot located in North Las Vegas, approximately 30 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip. That means that in order to wake up, get ready, catch an Uber from the hotel, and be at the bus loading area in a timely manner, we had to set our alarms for 2:45 a.m. at the absolute latest. That part was not something I was looking forward to at all. But I do understand the reasons why those times were setup that way. The weather in late April in the Las Vegas area, which is really a desert, can have temperatures rise rapidly into the high 70s and low 80s shortly after sunrise. Not optimal racing conditions for most people. This is the main reason why race organizers have already decided that starting next year (2020), the race date will be moved up almost one month to the first Saturday in April. Here is a portion of the email sent out by race organizers a few days ago about this:
"In order to reduce the likelihood of warm temperatures on race day, REVEL Mt Charleston is excited to announce the 2020 event will take place on Saturday, April 4, 2020. All future races will take place on the first Saturday of April. Average temperatures in early April are absolutely ideal for running."
The bus ride from the Walmart parking lot to the half marathon starting area took approximately 30 minutes, so we arrived there shortly before 5:00 a.m. That area doesn't really have any buildings or structures; it's just a large open lot full of gravel to the side of the road which leads up the mountain. The sun had not come up yet and there was a strong cold wind at that time, so several of us huddled for a while inside one of the gear trucks from the race. We then took off our warm-up gear, placed it in our drop bags and gave them to the truck that would take it to the finish line.
The start was unlike none I had ever seen. No corrals or gated areas; all of it open and with several banners marking where the spots where the various pacers gather at. We quickly found the one we were looking for and were soon on our way. The view of snow-capped mountains behind us and the first rays of sun coming up ahead of us made for a truly gorgeous and unique way to start a race.
Within 2-3 minutes of starting I felt that the pacer we were following was going too fast for me, so I decided to let her and the group go and just run my own race. I quickly settled into a much more comfortable pace that I knew I'd be able to maintain for most of the race.
For the first 3-4 miles, the temperature felt fine, but after that the sun started getting tougher and tougher as the race progressed. By the time that I had reached miles 7-8, I felt it was too hot already.
Course & Support
The course is point to point and follows a wide and downhill asphalt road into North Las Vegas. The road is in great condition; I don’t remember any potholes or cracks to be concerned about. For the bulk of the way, the decline is approximately 4%. When it reaches the 7-8 mile point it flattens out a bit but still declines overall all the way to the finish. The only exception is a short uphill on a turn into a neighborhood, but nothing that is too high or demanding.
I felt that the support on course was fine with plenty of volunteers and tables well-stocked with water and electrolyte drink. I was carrying my own electrolyte on a handheld bottle, so I took only water at every station, which were located at every even mile starting at mile 2.
Overall, I started feeling the effects of the constant downhill pounding on the quad muscles at around mile 7 or so. It is a different sort of discomfort, one that gets in your head a bit and makes you wonder how much longer you will be able to handle, not the usual soreness on the calves I typically feel on most races. I was able to keep up with my targeted pace until about mile 10. From that point on until the finish line, I had to really focus to stay in some sort of rhythm and close the last 3 miles strong and into the finish line.
The finish line had plenty of volunteers handing out medals, water, and electrolytes, and was quite wide with plenty of room on one of the sides for runners to walk or greet friends and family. The medal is somewhat unique with an image of the desert tortoise and a blue/gray ribbon. Not the most attractive design I’ve seen, but not bad either. The post-race food and refreshments included pizza, chocolate milk, fruit, and beer. The beer was served inside a separate, restricted tent area where they were checking IDs. The beer provided was great and icy cold. The canopy there also provided welcome shade from what was by then a full-out sun beaming down.
Something that did impact me a bit on this race was the drier, desert climate there. Not on the actual performance, because I didn’t suffer any cramps or muscle issues at all. But even though I made sure I was properly hydrated prior to the race and drinking water at every station during it, my mouth had a dry cotton feel to it since early on, and by the time that I finished, my lips were quite chapped/cracked and I had to go buy lip balm afterwards.
Within a few days after the race, they emailed us with a link to the free race photos included with registration. They are high quality and include the race logo and add great value to the overall package and experience that the race provides.
I feel this is a neat and different style of race that is worth the price of registration and even more. Now that I have gone through it, there is no doubt in my mind that the challenge of running downhill for 13+ miles is one that can be easily underestimated. However, one can prepare properly for that challenge and not only do well at it, but also have quite a bit of fun and enjoyment during it. The race organizers clearly know what they are doing and go to great lengths to prepare and put up this event, including weekly Facebook Live sessions covering everything from course description to climate and much more. It is a race I would recommend to anyone who hasn't had an opportunity to experience it yet.
There were several reasons why last summer I decided to sign up and run the Miami Half Marathon. It was partly due to wanting to expand my horizons by running races I have not done before, as well as due to the attraction of Miami being a fun, vibrant city with very mild, enjoyable winters. However, the biggest reason was that I have a lot of family who lives there, including a few cousins who had completed this race in recent years and who were eager for us to be able to run it together in 2019.
Right away, on the first day of the Expo (Friday), I knew I had made the right decision signing up for this race. Getting to the Expo from where we were staying in the Brickell area of Miami was easy and convenient. We walked a couple of blocks to the Metromover station, a free, elevated light rail service that operates seven days a weeks in the Downtown and Brickell area. We used the Metromover to connect us to the Miami Trolley, also free, which then put us literally across the street from the Race Expo being held at the Mana Wynwood Convention Center. After arriving and meeting fellow BibRave Pro Lisa, I went through the VIP packet pickup process and was helped right away by the Expo staff. They promptly corrected an issue with my original bib and corral assignment, and allowed me to exchange my t-shirt size from large to medium given that the large turned out to be too big.
I then proceeded to enjoy what I feel has been the best Expo I've ever attended. There was a large variety of vendors, carrying plenty of colorful and interesting styles of merchandise. There were also many booths with representatives of races from all over Latin America, such as Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, and Costa Rica. On top of that, there were plenty of other fun aspects we experienced, such as a giant floor map of the course for marathon and half marathon routes, and a group of samba/carnival dancers and drummers who made their way throughout the Expo floor in full carnival style in the middle of the afternoon. After having a blast at the Expo, we moved on to walk the surrounding streets in the Wynwood area. There are a lot of free art galleries, museums, food trucks, restaurants, and entertainment for all.
On race morning, we took a short Uber ride to meet one of my cousins who rented an Airbnb which was conveniently located only about a mile from the start line and corrals in front of the American Airlines Arena at the corner of Biscayne Blvd. and 8th Street. In our group of 4, we each had been assigned to different corrals, so we decided to simply slide to the furthest one back to be able to start and run together. We were at the corral a little bit longer than the expected release time for it due to a delay from the City of Miami police giving the race director the clearance to start the race. But with the great company and fun atmosphere all around us, the time flew by and we were all joking and happy once we started moving and crossed the start.
Within the first mile, the course went onto the MacArthur Causeway and began to cross the beautiful Biscayne Bay, so literally from the beginning, the race was extremely enjoyable with awesome views and plenty of space and room to run on despite there being over 20,000 runners combined between the full and half marathon races. Not once did I feel that that there were too many runners around me or found it difficult to hit the pace and stride that I wanted to be in. Before long we had crossed Biscayne Bay and entered into South Beach, with streets lined with colorful buildings and tall palm trees everywhere.
The course was very well-marked and supported from beginning to end. There were plenty of hydration stations, port-a-potties, and medical tents throughout, always full of eager and friendly volunteers cheering us on.
The weather was not optimal for racing as it was humid and in the upper 60s (68 or so) at the start. However, I didn't have a problem with that as my goal for this race was to just run with my cousins, enjoy the scenery of the course, and not worry about pace or time. There was also enough of a cool breeze/wind to truly make things quite comfortable and enjoyable for me all the way to the finish line.
The great majority of the course was flat and fast. There were a number of slight inclines with the bridges crossing Biscayne Bay going to and coming back from Miami Beach, but truly nothing to worry about at all.
Along the course there were a number of bands playing music and plenty of people cheering runners on, in particular over the last couple of miles and all the way to the finish. Even though the finish line chute had a lot of volunteers handing out water and the gorgeous medals, we experienced a back-up of runners in front of us after we had finished and were in the chute and on our way to the food and stretching area. Our group reached out to the race administration about this issue and they indicated that we apparently finished at a moment in which there were inadvertently a more volunteers at the full marathon finisher’s chute than at the half marathon’s side, and that created a logjam on our side. Obviously this can be frustrating when you have just finished running a half marathon, but now that the race organizers are aware of this occurrence, I'm confident they'll plan accordingly and make the necessary adjustments for next year's race.
Once we had gotten through the food and stretching area, we were treated to the largest post-race party I've ever seen, led by the 13th Army Band, playing awesome salsa music to the delight of the big crowds of finishers, friends, and family.
Within 24-48 hours, not only were the official results posted in the Athlinks website (and emailed by race management), but also amazing, FREE (yes, free!), high-resolution race photos included alongside them and ready to download---talk about huge value for your money!
In summary, I absolutely loved this race. It is truly an enjoyable event from beginning to end, so much so that I have already decided to return in 2020 and experience it all over again.
This was my first time racing in the Rock 'n' Roll series. I had a special motivation to participate in this well-known event, as I lived in San Antonio many years ago and still have both family and friends there. San Antonio also has a particular charm to it and well-known hospitality that attracts visitors and tourists not only nationally but internationally as well, and it was no different for me when I decided to opt-in and register.
The online registration process was smooth through a quick, easy-to-complete form and I received an email receipt within seconds of completing the process. The packet pickup and expo was held at the Henry Gonzalez Convention Center in downtown San Antonio, a very large facility. While there was quite a bit of traffic, we were able to use a parking garage that is conveniently located directly across the street from the convention center and paid about $10 to park there.
The process of picking up the bib was extremely easy and quick and took just a few minutes. The staff handling the process was particularly friendly, accommodating, and professional.
For example, when I picked up my shirt (a nice gray tech t-shirt), the Large size seemed to be a bit too big so I asked if I could try it on and confirm the fit. They said that would not be a problem and immediately exchanged it for a size Medium after I confirmed the Large did not fit me right.
I was also able to easily correct my corral assignment when I noticed by checking my bib that I had been assigned one that wasn't matching my projected time.
The start line and corrals for both the marathon and the half marathon were located at the corner of Alamo and Market streets in downtown, just a block or so from the main gathering area for runners between Hemisfair Park and the Convention Center. I felt this area was perfect as it is quite spacious and was able to easily and comfortably accomodate the thousands of us who were participating. There were plenty of bathroom and port-a-potties located in various spots around the park; lines were short and moving quickly. Race organizers also set out tables with water and electrolytes in this waiting area for anyone needing pre-race hydration, and I noticed many people were welcoming that and taking advantage of it to make sure they were starting as ready as possible.
Climate at start time was about as comfortable as it can be with temps in the low 50s with little to no wind. About 30 minutes prior to the start I took off the light jacket I had on before turning in my gear bag and just stayed with the singlet I had on, and didn't feel like I was too cold while waiting in the corrals. I felt that continued to be the case all the way to the finish line, although there were a couple of people who told me that it was slightly warm for their preference towards the end of the race (half marathon).
The highlights of the race for me came through:
1 - The entertainment provided along the course primarily by bands playing all kinds of music such as rock, country, and mariachi. I was beyond impressed and thoroughly enjoyed the segment of road which I estimate to have been about half a mile or so, lined with several mariachi groups enthusiastically playing and signing.
2 - The well-spaced, staffed, and stocked hydration stations, in particular the ones at miles 5+ and 9, in which they handed out Science In Sport gels. Even though I was carrying my own nutrition as a backup, I used those gels and really liked them (orange flavor). Can't say enough about the enthusiastic and helpful support provided by all the volunteers I saw and greeted in each one of the stations; it simply makes for a very enjoyable experience to have people like that helping and cheering you on along the way.
The great majority of the course was flat and fast, although there were a few rolling hills towards the back end of the half, around mile 11 or so. I personally enjoy rolling hills as I feel that when I get to the top of one and come out on the other side I will gain momentum on the downhill side and pick up some impulse and speed. If you have included some hill training in your workouts, you should be able to handle this course without a problem and shouldn't worry about it at all.
A big course highlight for me was going through the Blue Mile area and Breckenridge park, both for its calming peace and beauty as well as the meaningful memories of those military veterans who gave up their lives serving our country.
The finish line had plenty of volunteers handing out medals, water, and electrolyte drinks, and was quite wide with plenty of room for runners to walk or greet friends and family on the sides. The medal for the half has a neat and colorful design of an art structure of a large red ribbon which is located right at the start line and was neat to see on race morning. The post-race food and refreshments provided were outstanding in my opinion.
In conclusion, I found this to be a quite an enjoyable race from beginning to end, and would say that its top aspects are the organization, support, and entertainment. The start and finish lines, all the various music bands along the course, and the well marked, stocked, and staffed hydration and aid stations along the way all send the message loud and clear that this is a professional, well-run event inside and out.