Latest reviews by Juan J. Arrieta

(2020)
"Remembering Tony Banovich"
Overall
Race Management
SWAG
Virtual Support

This was a virtual event created as a way to remember Tony Banovich, an awesome human being who served as Race Director for the Missoula Marathon and Executive Director of the nonprofit organization Run Wild Missoula. Tony was deeply dedicated to the running community, and his sudden passing left behind running shoes too big for anyone to fill.

It meant a lot for me to participate in this event because from the moment I had met Tony at the start of the BibRave campaign for the 2018 Missoula Marathon, he treated me like family. He communicated often with me and went out of his way to do things that made me feel completely welcome and appreciated as an important member of his team.

The virtual event consisted of running or walking 4.35 miles, which was the average daily distance of Tony's amazing 1,731 day run streak. It was a great way for me to set time aside to think of him and the example he set for all of us to follow.

Proceeds from the event benefitted nonprofit organization Run Wild Missoula and therefore support the Missoula running community which was such an important part of Tony's life. Registrants completing the challenge receive a commemorative pin embossed with the event logo, and nice memento of Tony and his legacy that will make a neat keepsake for many years to come.

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(2020)
"Learning through the Texas Distance Challenge"
Overall
Race Management
SWAG
Virtual Support

For the last few months I've been participating in the Monthly Detours Program of the Texas Distance Challenge. The Monthly Detours feature custom 5k-10k virtual routes throughout the state. When the Detour location is announced each month, program directors publish a blog post describing it, its route, history, and nearby attractions. This has been not just a great way to add some motivation and variety into my running schedule, but also to learn about parts of the state I'm unfamiliar with and neat places to go and visit in hopefully the not too distant future.

For example, November's detour was Possum Kingdom Lake near Fort Worth. I had never heard of it before and learned all about it through the blog post published when it was announced to challenge participants.

The Possum Kingdom Detour challenge consisted of either running or walking 4.8 miles, which is the distance equivalent to Possum Kingdom's Johnson Peak Loop

When I completed that detour, I just went to the link provided by race directors and simply connected the results with my date, time, and distance from my Strava account, and a couple of weeks later received the challenge sticker and card from the race organizers. I have a neat collection already and it will continue to do so all the way through April 2021, when the challenge ends.

Besides the Monthly Detours, there are two other options you can choose from within the Texas Distance Challenge if you are interested in completing them either running or walking:

Solo Crossing: 814 individual miles
Team Crossing: 814 combined miles as a team

There are also options for cyclists to choose:
Solo Crossing: 814 individual miles
Team Crossing: 814 combined miles as a team
Solo Loop: 3,612 individual miles
Team Loop: 3,612 combined miles as a team

Regardless of which of these options appeals to you (or your friends), a neat feature of the program is that all miles can all be logged retroactively, meaning that any miles which you ran, walked, or cycled from July 1, 2020 can be counted towards your overall total in order to complete the challenge by April 30, 2021.

The swag you will receive first upon signup and then upon completion of the challenge is absolutely awesome and has been a nice incentive for me all along.

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(2020)
"California Coast Commitment"
Overall
Race Management
SWAG
Virtual Support

The California Coast 500 virtual challenge helped me have my strongest, highest mileage summer ever. I felt motivated and committed to keep cranking out the miles during our typical hot, sweltering summer here in Texas.

The challenge allowed participants to choose from a number of distances to run cumulative from June 8 until September 7: 100, 250, 400, and 500 miles. The miles would be virtually run on the Pacific Coast Highway on the California coast, from Santa Monica all the way to San Francisco.

All you had to do was log your miles manually at the event website or simply link up your Garmin/Polar/Suunto account to it and it would sync up automatically to it.

I opted for the 250 miles goal and that turned out to be perfect for me---challenging yet achievable. After having my strongest June ever with a 107 running miles, I was able to follow that up with another great month in July for a total of 110 miles. That then allowed me to recover a bit by lowering my weekly average mile some while staying active and not just shutting it down completely during the brutal August temps and humidity. It all felt very satisfying to do so.

The race website was great and had a super easy way to check your progress on an interface that would show your stats both on a table as well as on your virtual position along the California coast. The position of the runners in front and behind you would also be shown so that was a neat way to check how you were doing not just with your target mileage but others as well such as my fellow BibRave Pros who participated in the challenge.

However I believe that what I loved the most about the California Coast 500 were the weekly mini-challenges and accompanying digital badges. They were great for me because of the difference between them from week to week; I felt they kept things fresh and helped me have something new to look forward to each week. For example, I earned the POWER HOUR Shark badge (see photo) during one week by logging 60 minutes of running on July 16th, which also made me eligible to win a shoe & apparel package from @HOKAONEONE. I didn't end up winning the package, but it sure as heck motivated me to get those miles done, and ultimately that's what I truly wanted to do.

In all the years I've been running, not once had I logged 100 miles in a month during the summer. Not ONCE. I've thought about it and can only conclude that in the past I've just let the challenging heat and humidity during this time of the year get to me mentally and break my discipline. But this year, motivated primarily by this challenge, I was able to get past that mental block and put together those back-to-back months of over 100 miles each.

The swag was an AWESOME custom/handmade wooden medal as well as a great looking participant shirt, super soft and comfy and perfect for relaxing anywhere.

In conclusion, this was an outstanding virtual challenge to participate in and one that I'd gladly do again next summer.

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(2020)
"Another great experience in Miami"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I ran this race in 2019 and enjoyed so many things about it that fairly quickly afterwards I decided I would come back in 2020. Between the enjoyment of the awesome Expo, course scenery and atmostphere, and having a lot of family who lives in Miami I can see and visit, I have plenty of reasons to run this race.

This year the Expo was held once again at the Mana Wynwood Convention Center. This is a great location not only because it is quite large and spacious to fit in plenty of vendors, packet pickup, and all other amenities without the feeling of being overwhelming, but also because it is in the heart of the Wynwood district with great art exhibits, places to eat, and night life surrounding it. After arriving and meeting fellow BibRave Pro Mike Dill, I went through the VIP packet pickup process and was helped right away by the Expo staff.

The VIP package this year included a special set of gear (running jacket, tumbler) and access to a number of special amenities pre- and post-race, from food and drinks, to massages and private restrooms at the Finish Line.

I then went on with my family to enjoy what I feel is one if not THE best Expo of all the races I've ever done. It was that way last year and this year it was no different. A large variety of vendors, carrying a big variety of colorful and interesting styles of merchandise. Tons of booths from representatives of races from all over Latin America, such as Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, and Costa Rica.

One of the things I did this year was to get the area around my left Achilles taped up for extra support by the Infinity Sports Institute, one of the awesome vendors participating in the Expo.

After having a blast at the Expo, we moved on to walk the Wynwood Marketplace, which is directly adjacent to the Expo Convention Center and has a great vibe and atmosphere with music, food trucks, merchandise tents, art exhibits, etc.

On race morning, I took the MetroRail from the Palmetto station to Overtown, which is located only 1/2 mile from the American Airlines Arena and the race starting area. The trains run early and made it quite convenient because I was able to park my rental car at the MetroRail Station for free and avoid having to drive into downtown and deal with all the street closures necessary for the race. The race has an early start of 6:00 a.m.

I also used the 1/2 mile distance from the Overtown station as my warmup jog for the race which helped me save time once I arrived at the starting area. After dropping off my gear bag, I went through my dynamic stretching routine and entered Corral E to line up and wait for the start.

Within the first mile, the course goes onto the MacArthur Causeway Bridge which crosses Biscayne Bay. While this is definitely a bit challenging since it is a bridge incline, I was already familiar with it from having run it last year and knew what to expect. The climb only lasts a few minutes and it is not really that steep. It is only a matter of maintaining a consistent effort and before you know it you are halfway through it and can actually take advtange of the downhill on the other side of the bridge and speed up.

Despite there being thousands of runners (20,000 participants this years), not once did I feel that that there were too many people 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.

Although the weather was not optimal for racing with temps around 69-70 at the start, I made a conscious decision the day before the race to not let those conditions get into my head. I recognized the fact that the weather is the same for everyone in the race and PLENTY of people still find ways to do great despite of it, and get PRs, BQs, etc. so why couldn't I be like them and improve on my time from last year? Right then I commited to fighting for my goal no matter how uncomfortable conditions would get. I was able to get into a great zone from early on.

I truly enjoyed the course with all its awesome views of the water throughout, palm trees, cruise ships, and hotels. Not once did I feel bored or thinking about a change of scenery.

Along the way there were a number of bands playing music and plenty of people cheering runners on, in particular over the last couple of miles. I thought that the roar of the crowd as I entered the last 50 meter stretch before the finish line was incredibly loud and totally loved it; it is so energizing and makes for a truly unforgettable moment.

After the finish, volunteers placed the awesome medal on my neck and handed me a bottle of water. I walked for a couple of minutes to cool down and found a good area to stretch and sit for for a few minutes.

After taking a couple of pictures, I walked through the food tent, which was very well organized with neat baskets and box lunches and moved very quickly. From there I headed to the VIP tent where I met fellow BibRave Pros Mike and Sarah, where we celebrated and chatted about each of our experiences on what turned out to be a great day.

Before heading back I made my way to the opposite side of the finish area, where once again the 13th Army Band was entertaining the crowd with its awesome salsa music on a gorgeous morning in Miami.

As I walked back to the MetroRail station, I also came upon the Kids' Run & it was a very enjoyable moment. It is representative of the race organizers' efforts to make this a complete weekend full of enjoyment for the entire family and community.

In summary, I once again absolutely loved this race. This time a bit more as I was able to improve my race time by more than 23 minutes from last year. Will do all I can to train smarter next time to do even better in 2021!

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

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.

Race Morning/Course/Support
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.

Finish Line/Medal/Food
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.

Conclusion
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.

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