Latest reviews by Juan J. Arrieta

(2018)
"Quite a scenic course"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Registration:
A smooth online process through a quick, easy-to-complete form. Received an email receipt within seconds of completing the process.

Packet Pick-up/Expo:
The packet pickup and expo was held at a small-medium size facility in La Villita, near the convention center in downtown San Antonio. La Villita is a quaint and picturesque area full of small shops and restaurants that is actually fairly popular with tourists and local alike. The building in which the packet pickup is held is at the west end of La Villita, at the corner of Presa St. and Villita St. The process of picking up my bib and shirt was extremely easy and quick, took less than 2 minutes. The staff handling the process was very friendly and professional. When they gave me my shirt, I noticed that it was much larger than I'm used to on a size L. They allowed me to try it on and exchange it for a Medium size that fit much better. Big kudos to them, that courtesy and gesture is more than appreciated!

Swag:
The race swag consisted of an AWESOME looking medal and red tech shirt combo, both included the shields/symbols that are representative of the various cultures of individuals who fought at the battle of the Alamo in 1836. Both are keepers no doubt.

Start Line:
The start line was conveniently located on Alamo St. immediately adjacent to the Hemisfair Park grounds, which are quite spacious and comfortable, with plenty of room and areas such as benches and wide walkways to stretch and relax prior to the race. There were also plenty of port-a-potties to handle all the runners in hand; I didn't see or notice any particularly long lines on any of them. This event catered to most runners out there (with the exception of those looking for ultras) offering distances ranging from a 5K all the way to the full 26.2 miles marathon.

Weather:
Climate on race day was not optimal for racing, but as we all know, that's completely out of the control of everyone, including the race director. At start, temps were in the high 60s and there was high humidity with the threat of rain looming over the race. Despite that, to me it didn't feel bad and I was able to run my race without a struggle or being uncomfortable.

Course & Support:
A sweet & sour area for this race. The course itself I absolutely loved and is what I would consider, by far, the #1 reason to run this race---an interesting, varied, and scenic course that never got dull or boring. It winds through nice cobblestone streets in downtown, neighborhoods full of beautiful Victorian-homes, historic Spanish missions, and well-developed trails all along the San Antonio River. It is such a nice course that I did something I had never done before, and that was to stop to take photos SEVERAL times throughout the course to just capture the memories. I have been running races for about 18 years now, and with the exception of the Marine Corps Marathon Course, I don't think I have enjoyed a course as much as I enjoyed this one at the Alamo 13.1. That being said, the support along the course, primarily at the hydration stations, was disappointing. There were at least 2 stations where there were only 1 or 2 volunteers, with no water or electrolyte drink ready for the runners to grab. Keep in mind that I wasn't a back-of-the-pack runner, more mid-pack as I was running approximately a 9:30 minutes/mile pace. Imagine the scene as you are approaching the table and notice that there are literally 6-7 people completely stopped, waiting for the 1-2 volunteers who are trying to pour the drink into the cups and hand them over because there is no one else to help them. I distinctly remember this being the case with the hydration station around mile 8. I didn't want water, just electrolyte, and there was no line for that container, so I literally had to grab an empty cup, pour myself the electrolyte from the container, and keep going. I went into the race's Facebook page and read quite a few reviews there which addressed the same issue. I did find one comment/reply from the race organization on those Facebook reviews which indicates that apparently a couple of days prior to the race, a group of 40 volunteers they were counting on to help dropped out, so they were severely understaffed and it clearly had an impact on race day. I personally feel that they will learn from that experience and will do whatever it takes to get it corrected for next year and in the future.

Finish Line/Medal/Food:
The finish line had plenty of volunteers handing out medals and water and was quite wide with plenty of room for runners to walk or greet friends and family on the sides. The medal is a large, chocolate bar unwrapped at the top that makes it appear that you're about to eat it, and it's a neat, unique design---definitely a keeper. The post-race food was, as expected, all themed around chocolate, with delicious dark hot chocolate, marshmallows, etc. It truly is good, quality chocolate believe me. I consider myself a chocolate-snob and theirs passes the test with flying colors.

Conclusion:
I enjoyed literally just about every aspect of this race with the lone exception being the issue with the hydration stations. Other than that, there wasn't a component that I felt was not done professionally and with thought behind it, and feel that the race organizers will improve on it on next year, and thus would definitely considering signing up for it again in 2019.

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(2018)
"A PR conducive course"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Registration/Cost:
The registration for this race is easily done online through an easy-to-understand page and form. Cost is reasonable and in-line with other half-marathons.

Packet Pick-up/Expo:
The packet pickup and expo was held from 10:30am-8:00pm at the Marriott Hotel in The Woodlands Waterway, on the day before the race (Friday, as this race is always on a Saturday). I went there after work, parked with no problems at the mall directly across the street and walked over. After entering the hall where the pickup is held, I checked in at the table with the signs for my bib number, they checked and verified my ID, and gave me my bib. I then walked to an adjacent set of tables to get my choice of either a hat or visor with the race logo. I looked at both and opted for the visor. Neither design or color was bad (dark blue with white lettering), but they look quite similar to prior years' hats and somewhat bland, not all that great or appealing--just 'meh'.

After picking up the visor, I walked through the snake-style hallways of booths in literally less than 5 minutes. I didn't see a single table or booth that came across as interesting enough to stop or purchase anything, but I guess if you were needing some gear or nutrition, they had it. It did feel though as if this expo not only had a lot less people (runners) attending, but also less booths/vendors than in years past (I have participated in this race 3 times before). I later exchanged texts with a friend who indicated noticing the same thing.

Swag: The main swag item was a finisher's t-shirt. It is green and made out of a nice, comfortable blend material, with an ok design on it. Again, not bad, but nothing to write home about.

Start Line: I parked for free at the neaby mall parking lot, approximately 2-3 blocks and easy walk from the start. The start line was conveniently adjacent to a large and spacious area, Tom Green Park and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion, a popular entertainment facility for concerts, etc. The corrals had staggered closure times and were well setup, controlled, and accessed.

Weather: I've read and heard people complaining about the weather for this race, but I have been fortunate that each year in which I've run it, the weather has been perfect, including this year. Temps at start time of 7am were in the low 50s with a bit of sun, little or no wind. I ran on a tank top and felt that the weather couldn't have been any better for racing.

Course & Support:
The course resembles a rectangle that goes out and starts turning back to the point of origin around mile 7. It is mostly pancake flat, with some segments of asphalt and some concrete, with a few declines here and there and just a short incline or two. From the very start I ran a pace better than I was targeting, all the way to the end and PR'd by almost 4 minutes (and prior to a few months ago, I had also set my PR here back in 2016), so this is definitely a fast course for me. There are tons of trees on both sides of the roads everywhere you go to in The Woodlands, so that is the view you have along most of the way---trees. The hydration stations were as indicated on the course map, well setup, organized, and staffed with volunteers.

Finish Line/Medal/Food:
The finish line had plenty of volunteers handing out medals and water and was quite wide with plenty of room for runners to walk or greet friends and family on the sides. The medal design was similar to how I felt about the hats/visor---not bad, but not all that great either. The post-race food was good, with plenty of fruit, breakfast tacos, chik-fil-a, and chocolate milk. The post race is held at an ample park area next to the finish line, with plenty of room to relax and celebrate with friends and family.

Conclusion:
While I did enjoy doing this race again this year, in particular being able to PR, I am not sure I will run it again next year because I've already done it a few times and don't feel there isn't that much new or appealing with it anymore for me. That doesn't mean I wouldn't run it again or recommend it to someone else, because it is a nice event done professionally; it's just that I would probably run and experience other races and locations instead for the time being.

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(2018)
"Great organization and support"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Expo/Packet Pick-up
This expo has been held for decades at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. This venue is "ginormous" as my son likes to say, being quite spacious to say the least. Packet pickup there is always well organized, in particular when you consider that the event traditionally sells out at its current cap of 25,000 participants combined between the full and half marathon races. The packet pickup area this year was moved (for whatever reason) to a different hall from where the vendors are, but it is still on the same floor of the convention center. I guess the move might have been done in an attempt to create more space for the vendors and to clearly separate the two areas. Within seconds of entering the very large ballroom-style room for packet pick-up, I was approached by a friendly volunteer lady who asked if I needed help looking up my bib number and registration. After she found my number on her iPad, she walked me to a booth area in the room where my bib would be, and handed her iPad with my registration info to another volunteer who scanned the QR code displayed on the iPad and asked to see my ID to confirm my identity. He found my bib packet, confirmed with me it was the correct name on it, and explained to me where to go next to get my participant t-shirt (pictured) and browse the expo. I was literally in and out of the packet pick up in less than 3-4 minutes and zero confusion or hassles. It is quite clear not only that they have perfected the process over the years, but that they also know how to staff it with the right amount of volunteers.

Living nearby in the Houston suburbs makes this Expo a great opportunity for me to buy any running gear I may be needing for good, discounted prices, so I generally go to it even if I'm not running in one of the races. There are always plenty of vendors offering the latest and greatest gear as well as representatives of big races from across the country and the state. This year I enjoyed chatting with representatives from the Big Sur International Marathon and the Route 66 Marathon as those are events that have been on my radar for a bit and I'm considering doing. Interestingly enough, this year it felt as if there were less vendors altogether, and that there weren't as many booths or products being offered as in years past. For example, I tried to find a vendor booth I've seen there in the past carrying a large variety of colorful arm warmers, and couldn't find it. A friend of mine who attended had the same impression; that there appeared to be not as many vendors as in years past.

Race Day, Course, and Support
I drove downtown with my friend Mel and parked at the nearby Toyota Center garage which is only 3 blocks away. Parking in downtown Houston can be a challenge as it is the case in most cities that large. You can find yourself circling around several city blocks looking for either an open metered spot or a parking lot that charges reasonable parking fees. This year, a running club we're affiliated with, the Cypress Running Club, offered an awesome discounted park deal of $5 to its members at the Toyota Center garage. I am very glad to have taken advantage of the offer, as it took the hassle and guesswork out of where I'd be parking, at quite a reasonable cost of $5 to be so close to the convention center.

Once there, we gathered with friends and team members for group photos and I then headed for the port-a-potties to avoid having to use them during the race. Even though there were A LOT of port-a-potties available at the convention center, there were several hundred runners lining up for them. I estimate that each line had approximately 60-70 people waiting and they all appeared to be moving extremely slow, but I felt I had no choice but to go then (which was incorrect) and not wait until later, or I'd pay the price during the race---so I lined-up and waited patiently. The line took so long that by the time I exited and got out to the corrals, I had missed my corral closure time (7:00am) and had to then go into corral C, the next one that was open and due to start (7:15am). On my way to corral C, I noticed that there were plenty of port-a-potties available near it, and most of them were either empty or with only 1-2 people waiting in line, so that would have been a much better/smarter option. I regretted not thinking ahead and realizing that those would be there as that would have saved me all that time I spent earlier at the lines inside the convention center.

Approximately 10 minutes after entering the corral, we were released and able to start the race. Soon after, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily I was able to establish my target pace without having to weave in and out and dodge a lot of the runners ahead of me. I feel that this was due to a change in the wave release times between each corral and the gap they were allowing in between, so the crowds ahead of us were smaller than in previous years. Kudos to the race management for that change, I definitely noticed the difference and feels it makes for a more enjoyable race. I last ran this race two years ago in 2016 and do not remember if the first 3-4 miles were the same then as they were this year, but definitely recall that 5 years ago that segment was different and not as enjoyable as it is now. On this new course, the route is straighter and on a wider street during those first few miles, so things felt a lot roomier and comfortable.

All along the course there are plenty of spectators, music bands, cheerleaders, and support groups literally from beginning to end. Despite the temperature being in the low 30s at start time, the crowds were out in force and in great spirits everywhere. I laughed, high-fived, and truly enjoyed all of the music they were playing as I progressed. The hydration stations were plentiful, spaced about 1.5 miles apart beginning at mile 2. They were well-organized and staffed, with plenty of volunteers handing out Gatorade Endurance (a formula with a higher sodium content to help sustain hydration better) on the first set of tables at each station, then water on the second set. Unlike some other races, I felt that the mix of Gatorade Endurance they provided was perfect with the correct strength and not diluted at all, so kudos to race management in that respect as well. They also had a Clif Energy Gel station between miles 9 and 10, but I always opt to carry the gels I train with instead. As far as elevation and difficulty go, I would rate this course as an optimal race to run a PR on, as it is extremely flat throughout with a mix of asphalt and concrete surface and not a lot of turns. One perfect example of this was that of Molly Huddle's, who just broke Deena Kastor's American record in the half marathon yesterday, a record which had stood since 2006 (click HERE to read a full-article on her amazing accomplishment. I was also very fortunate to run fast and strong on this course yesterday and improved on my previous personal record by 54 seconds, to a finish of exactly 1:59:00 for the 13.1 miles.

Right after finishing and receiving the medal, you enter back into the convention center for the post-race food and collecting of the finishers' t-shirt and checked gear bags. There was plenty of post-race food, consisting of ice cream sandwiches, egg and sausage biscuits, chocolate milk, fruit, granola bars, etc. The center, being a covered and indoor facility that is so large and spacious makes it very easy and comfortable to find an area to stretch and gather with friends and family.

Across the street from the convention center and adjacent to the finish line there is a large park, called Discovery Green, where various vendors and organizations setup tents for post-race festivities, refreshments, and promotions. After meeting my wife at the convention center, we went there to relax and to keep an eye out for our friend Mel who was running the full marathon. We were tracking her progress through the Houston Marathon App the race publishes and makes available for both Apple and Android devices. We found the app to be quite accurate in pinpointing exactly where she was on the course (and that is not always the case with some races). In fact, you could actually see the icon representing her location on the map move every few seconds as she moved. With this frequent and reliable update from the app, we went to the finish line to cheer her on as she got within the last mile, and were there as she crossed and recorded a video we shared with her afterwards.

Conclusion
From beginning to end, this was a great event. I feel this is a top-notch race that is extremely well-organized and supported in every aspect. I would definitely run it again, and would also recommend it to anyone considering it.

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(2018)
"Quality All-Around"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Registration:
Registration for this race was easy-peasy, done online in just a couple of minutes on a well-designed page and form.

Packet Pick-up/Expo:
The packet pickup and expo was held at the executive club level inside Minute Maid Park, the homefield stadium of the Houston Astros. There were quite a few signs outside to leave no doubt where to enter the stadium for the expo. I left quite impressed with not only the location, but also with the entire process from beginning to end. They had plenty of friendly and knowledgeable staff on hand for everything, from handing out GREAT dark chocolate near the entrance, to the bib pick-up, to the convenient goodie bag area where you could try on the great running jacket included on the packet, and swap it if it did not fit correctly. This is not a common accommodation on a lot of events, so this race clearly distinguishes itself by doing this. Even though there weren't a ton of vendors, it felt as if you could find most of the running gear you'd be looking for or needing. The overall feel I left with when walking out is that the organizers form a quality outfit that has this process down and polished and clearly know what they are doing.

Swag: The main swag item (and a GREAT one at that) was a neatly designed running jacket with a 1/4 zip top running jacket made of a 90/10 polyester/spandex blend with the race logo and branding on the front/left side and on one of the arm sleeves.

Start Line: The start line was conveniently located immediately next to Hermann Square/City Hall, where bag drop off and the runners' gathering area was located. There was plenty of room and areas such as benches and wide walkways to stretch and relax prior to the race. It took less than 1 minute to walk to the starting corral. Start waves were staggered nicely to accommodate the various paces as estimated during the sign-up process.

Weather: Got lucky this year and in my opinion the climate was literally perfect for racing---at start time the temps were in the low 50s, with an overcast sky and little to no wind the entire route.

Course & Support:
The bulk of the course was along Allen Parkway, from the edge of downtown to just a few blocks from Memorial Park and back. There were quite a few inclines on it, in particular on the way back between miles 6 and 9. Nothing crazy though; all quite doable. The hydration stations had plenty of volunteers with a set of Nuun electrolyte on blue cups first, water on white cups second. In addition, each station had a table of some treat such as gummy bears, and yes, you guessed it, chocolate. In the middle of the race I heard a few runners here and there comment that they thought they'd be more hydration stations, but I felt there were sufficient. I never felt myself wondering how much longer to the next station or that they were spaced too far apart. In my opinion, on a 15K race you shouldn't need more than 3-4 stations at most. If you do, you're probably not prepared properly for the distance.

Finish Line/Medal/Food:
The finish line had plenty of volunteers handing out medals and water and was quite wide with plenty of room for runners to walk or greet friends and family on the sides. The medal is a large, chocolate bar unwrapped at the top that makes it appear that you're about to eat it, and it's a neat, unique design---definitely a keeper. The post-race food was, as expected, all themed around chocolate, with delicious dark hot chocolate, marshmallows, etc. It truly is good, quality chocolate believe me. I consider myself a chocolate-snob and theirs passes the test with flying colors.

Conclusion:
I enjoyed literally just about every aspect of this race. There wasn't a component that I felt was not done professionally and with thought behind it, and I would definitely recommend doing it to anyone considering signing up.

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(2017)
"Perfect PR setting"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Just ran this race this past Sunday for the 3rd year in a row. This time I ran the half and last year I ran the half relay with my wife.

First, I'd say that about the only negative aspect for some people regarding this race would be the following: there is NO convention to speak of whatsoever. None, zero, zilch. Now, I love going to race with great conventions probably as much as most runners do, but honestly for this race I could care less about not having a convention. Perhaps I feel that way because this is a local race for me as I have lived here in Cypress for the last 13 years so I don't have to travel at all for it so it's not a destination race for me.

If you don't mind not having a convention, then there are plenty of positives to consider doing this race. The packet pickup is well organized and quick, in and out in less than 5 minutes. The bib is personalized with your name or whatever phrase you want it and the gear you get at the finish has been GREAT all 3 years. This year it was your choice of either a headsweats visor (pictured) or hat at pickup, then an AWESOME tech shirt and medal to all finishers. Last year, instead of the visor or hat, the extra item besides the tech shirt was a nice, solid gym bag you can actually use for more than just a couple of times. The year prior to that, it was a coffee mug with the race logo/emblem. It is clear they like to keep things fresh and have a variety of swag items as part of the race incentives, and in my opinion, it works. In addition, every year they include free professional digital photos as part of the package. In both prior years the photos have been of high-quality and much better free than some other races in which they have tried to sell me a package of photos, so needless to say that is a huge, icing-on-top type of bonus.

The race start and finish are both adjacent to one of the local high schools that has large parking lots on all sides so getting there and parking for the start is a breeze as well as exiting post-race. There are plenty of port-a-potties near the start and even though this year I didn’t need to use them at all, when I walked by them on my way to the start line I noticed that the lines were fairly short, maybe 6-7 runners in line for each one maximum. The race course is a perfectly flat, out and back loop that is well-designed in my opinion, with the bulk of it going through a nice master-planned community with nice houses, landscaping, and lakes to look at. There are just a few turns, all through roads that are nice and wide and in great shape. The hydration stations are set apart approximately 1.5-2 miles and staffed with plenty of volunteers. There are pace teams for just about every pace possible in 15-minute increments. This year I decided to follow the 2:00 hour pace team from the start and stuck to them for the bulk of the race and ended up with a PR of 1:59:54. The post-race is done mostly inside of the high school in the cafeteria. It fits the approximately 1,500 runners plus volunteers perfectly fine, as the high school is HUGE since it has approximately 3,500 students in enrollment. Post-race food this year was Papa John’s pizza, bananas, several choices of soda, pretzels, gummy bears, etc.

The temperature at start time (6:45am) this year was around 62F and mostly cloudy. While that doesn’t sound like the absolute best of running conditions, for me it was. I ran on a singlet and felt that the air around me for the entire race was just perfectly cool to keep me from overheating or having to slow my pace down.

The overall gist of this race is that it is well-organized and supported race with a good, convenient course and great included gear, with enough participants to be fun and yet small enough to have room around you to relax and run your best race.

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