Latest reviews by Alastair Vance

(2019)
"My first Half, and now my first Marathon!"
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WHAT A DAY!

Well, it's obvious that the memories of pain and tiredness are starting to subside. It was probably a great idea waiting a day or two to review! ;-)

As the title says, I ran Tobacco Road Half Marathon last year, and it was my first half. That race was an amazing experience for me. Somehow I got talked into running the full marathon this year, and again the experience was amazing and so rewarding.

A lot of that can be attributed to how smoothly this race is executed. Everything from parking, pre-race coffee and snacks, plentiful porta-potties, aid stations, and post-race party -- it's top notch.

We arrived early to the race, around 5:15am, even as a coveted parking pass holder. There was a few grumbles from the team about that, but it good to get parked so close to the start line. We stayed in the car for a while and made a couple of trips to the port-a-potties. The longer you leave it, the longer the lines will get. :-)

We still had time for some pre-race photos. Coffee and some snacks (bananas, etc.) were available at this time if you needed them.

We started to line up around 6:45am. The start-line gets a little busy but with the army of pacers with signs in the air, it's easy to find where you should slide in.

The weather was perfect. It started off a little cold, but if I had worn anything other than shorts and short-sleeves I would have got too warm.

After the National Anthem under a huge American Flag, off we went. It was the first time I was running a race that I hadn't actually experienced the full distance yet. My training took me to 20 miles, so all I could think about was the remaining 6.

The half and the full race starts together and shares the road for 2.5 miles, at which point we hit the American Tobacco Trail. I live close to the trail and had run every section of the course many times. It's flat, tree-lined, and really nice, no matter what time of the year.

When the runners reached the trail, the half marathon turns left, while marathon turns right. Half marathon has an out and back and then back on the road to the finish line. The full marathon has an out and back, then also runs out and back on the half marathon trail section and then back on the road to the finish line.

The trail for the most part is hard packed gravel which makes it a bit easier on the joints.

There was aid stations every 2 miles or so with water and Gatorade. They also had plenty of GU gels available. I hadn't trained with GU, so I carried my own gels with me. There are also a number of porta-potties next to each aid station.

There was apparently some unofficial aid stations as well, set-up by neighborhoods connected to the trail. The Mimosa stand was the most intriguing. I really wanted to have some, but decided it wouldn't be a good idea. The 7hr sweeper would probably have caught up with me.

There is not a lot of spectators along the route, there is more at the various road crossings. I don't mind this too much as I'm fairly zoned out and listening to my marathon playlist. There are plenty of runners passing you due to the out-and-back nature of the course.

On finishing the race you get great medal, some water and a foil blanket to keep you warm. Then you can go pick up some pizza, chocolate milk, beer, oranges, bananas, etc. while listening to live music in the tent.

I pre-booked a massage at the Expo, so immediately after consuming some pizza I jumped the line (because I pre-paid) and had a massage. Yes! Another first for me.

After some more post-race photos we left for home and we'll all still talking about the experience.

I may not run the full next year, but I definitely want to run the half again and PR.

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(2019)
"Irish Castles and Cattle!"
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What a beautiful location for a race.

Carlingford is a little village in Ireland, situated by the sea at the feet of mountains. There are old historic buildings and castles dotted throughout the narrow streets.

Parking is a challenge, as it's quite limited. Get there early, or find a spot on the road and be prepared to walk back into town.

The Half Marathon course is along the sea front for quite a few miles. The weather was overcast and the wind was blowing, but fortunately from behind for that whole stretch.

There is a few hills at the beginning of the race, but after that it's mostly flat.

There was 2-3 aid stations I think. They had water for sure. I don't remember there being any sports drink available.

The course was not closed to traffic, so the occasional car or tractor would dart in and out of the runners as it made it's way past. At no time did this feel unsafe. It was just different to what I was used to.

The scenery was amazing though. I just loved being there, and the race is large enough to have a bit of atmosphere and excitement around it.

I'm so glad the date fell in the time I was visiting Ireland. Yes, I don't mind running races while on vacation. ;-)

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(2019)
"Run for Chocolate!"
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I was excited to get to run this race again. 15K is a great distance to race, and Charlotte is a great city to race in.

The course runs out of the city and through many neighborhoods and eventually back into the city center. The after party location changed this year and it was much better. Plus the addition of hot food (tacos!).

The course it quite hilly -- it reminded of running in downtown Durham. The course changed this year making it slightly more hilly than last year.

I loved the race shirts for 2019. It was a black, zip-up hoodie.

The aid stations had plenty of water, nuun, and chocolate treats every 2-3 miles through the course. I wouldn't normally eat the chocolate on the way around, but this time I gave it a try. Not sure I'll do that again. It's best if I leave the chocolate consumption to the end.

Which brings me to the finishers mug. It's a cup of hot chocolate, plus some dipping chocolate and multiple treats to dip in it -- pretzels, banana, marshmallow, etc.

Charlotte is a great city to hang out in, so it's easy to make a weekend out of it.

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(2018)
"10 Years Running!"
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This is one of my favorite races of the year without a doubt. This was the 10th year the race has been put on (and the 2nd time that I've run it). It was a bit warmer (and humid) than last year, so I was expecting to run it much slower, but I did OK in the end.

Most of my races this year have been much longer distances, so it was a little refreshing to be racing a shorter distance for a change.There were no pacing groups that I saw, but you don't really need it for this distance.

I always love running through the streets of Durham. The buildings provided some shade from the sun and there was a nice breeze at times which helped me to stay cool. The route has some hills, but nothing too steep or long. Strava reports around 300 ft elevation gain for it.

The atmosphere before and after this race is one of the best around. It's just buzzing. After the race, in the finishers area, you could grab some Beer, Nuun, Beer, Smoothies, Fruit, Beer, Granola bars, and samples from other vendors.

Being able to browse the farmer's market after and hit up some food trucks at the food truck rodeo is just another bonus and a great way to experience Durham, North Carolina.

The t-shirts are great. Thankfully this year I actually ordered the correct size when I registered, The medal is functioning cowbell -- I only have room for a few of these. :-)

There's only a couple of races I sign up for the minute registration opens, and this is one of them.

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(2018)
"Sweat those Hills!!"
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This is categorized as a trail race, but it's really hard-packed gravel and not as technical as a trail run. However, there's plenty of challenge here because of the hills. In fact, it was my most difficult half to date. With close to 1000ft elevation gain on a muggy North Carolina morning, I suffered big time.

It's an out and back course through Umstead State Park where the hills keep coming at you. I fell apart on the way back.

Access to the race is easy and there is hardly any traffic. Parking is ample and close to the start/finish line. The t-shirts are really nice, and I loved the wooden engraved medals.

There was plenty of aid stations on the route, with nice cool water in (most of) the cups. Gatorade was also offered at each station. There was no other fuel options provided.

It's a nice small local race, that humbled me a little and I will definitely run it again some time to improve on my results. It was my first time running this race, but it's been going for 20 years now.

Afterward there was plenty of snacks available (except beer).

If you like a bit of a challenge, give this race a look.

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