Latest reviews by Juan J. Arrieta
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.
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!
This race had been on my radar for a number of reasons, but in particular because the race course is on the actual Las Vegas Strip, at night, with all the lights and neon that Las Vegas is so famous for. The uniqueness of that scenario promised to be memorable, and it did not disappoint.
The expo/packet pickup was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, towards the northeast and just a couple of blocks away from the Main Strip. After flying in and checking into the hotel, I took a Lyft ride there to meet a cousin of mine and his friend; they were running the half marathon as well. By that time, Saturday afternoon around 4pm, there was still a bit of flow from participants like us picking up packets, but it was evident that most people had picked up theirs already. That made complete sense since the Expo and Packet Pickup event had been going on since Thursday morning. We were thus able to walk straight up to the counters and get our bibs and participant shirts. The shirt size I had ordered was larger than expected, but I was allowed to exchange it for the correct size at a solutions tent post-race.
There was a large selection of vendors throughout the Expo floor, with all the gear, hydration, or nutrition you probably need to run a race. But I used a packing checklist at home to make sure I travelled with all I needed for the race and have so much gear already that I didn’t need to buy a single item this time.
Race-day logistics and start line
The start for this race was at 4:30pm on Sunday afternoon. Given that in Las Vegas that time matches up with sunset, I imagine that it is done that way in order to not only take advantage of cooler, more favorable temperatures for running, but also because running the Strip at night with all its lights adds to the appeal of running the race.
There was a large, large area adjacent to the Planet Hollywood hotel designated as the Start Village for all participants to stretch, turn in gear bags, hydrate, use port-a-potties, and be entertained by a cover band playing a variety of music. There were also tents for VIPs and race merchandise for purchase.
I used the port-a-potties there and there were plenty of them, enough where there were very few people waiting in line, only about 3-4 deep on each at most, so it only took me about 5 minutes to wait for my turn.
At approximately 4:00pm, we were then able to transition from the Start Village to the corrals, which were organized according to the assigned bib color and projected finish times submitted during registration. We walked approximately ⅓ and ¼ mile in distance between the Start Village and our corrals, which were located directly in front of the Paris hotel and extending all the way to the Start Line, nearly to where the New York New York and MGM hotels are located. All of this process was extremely well organized and handled, in particular when you consider that between there were approximately 20,000 of us participating in the half and full marathon events.
We were on corral wave #8, so we watched all the buzz and excitement as each corral was released at the start, with an announcer counting down to zero along with pyrotechnics going off right at the start line banner, signaling the time to go.
Course & Support
Once our wave was released and we started, it took me about a mile or so for the crowd of runners around me to thin out enough to find the steady pace I was targeting. I was also being a bit cautious to keep an eye on the road, as we had noticed while we were at the corrals waiting for the start that there were many cracks and holes on the pavement. While we managed this throughout the course without any issues, I feel that it is due time for the city of Las Vegas to repave the Strip and make the road smoother.
Once I found the pace I was targeting, I was able to hold it for the bulk of the race and until about mile 11, when my legs started to feel extremely heavy and I started slowing down. I remember seeing the Stratosphere tower coming up on the distance to my right, motivating me to keep pushing strong, as I knew that after passing the tower, it would only be Circus Circus and Treasure Island before reaching the finish at The Mirage. I had enough focus and energy left to make a good push in that last stretch and finish the race strong. While it wasn't a PR for me, I was still quite happy and satisfied with my effort and performance.
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 Gatorade and SIS energy gels in the later miles.
The crowds were great throughout, but were the loudest when the course reaches the older section of the Strip and turns around mile 8-9, heading back on the last stretch towards the finish line. And obviously, a key element of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series races, there were plenty of music bands spread throughout the course, something which is definitely a lot of fun and energizing each time you run by one.
The finish line was located directly in front of The Mirage hotel, with a chute that was perhaps the longest one I have ever seen, stretching for approximately half a mile, all the way from the Mirage to the corner of Las Vegas Blvd and Flamingo Road, between Caesars Palace and The Bellagio hotels. Inside of the chute there were tons of volunteers handing out medals, water, Gatorade, chocolate milk, bananas, and other post-race refreshments, such as Michelob Ultra beer. In order to have a beer, we were required to have a special wristband provided after confirming valid ID showing age of 21 and over.
I feel this is a high-quality race, with a unique and entertaining course that is run at night, with thousands and thousands of people cheering along the way. Race management does a great job planning and putting on a memorable event. I would recommend it to anyone who is considering it, as there is so much to see and do in Las Vegas on top of the actual race.
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.