Latest reviews by Christine Newton

(2019)
"Awesome Race Weekend and a Perfect PR Course"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was a perfect, family friendly race weekend with distances for everyone! My husband ran the 5k, my kids ran the 1k, and I did the half marathon.

Expo: The expo was conveniently located right in front of the race start line. The expo itself was small but had everything we needed: a couple of running stores for last minute gear purchases, and a few other local vendors and races being represented. Neighborhood Harvest was the main sponsor and was handing out samples and details about their local programs. The race merchandise for sale was really cute, and my kids were begging for one of the crab hats that we were seeing around town all weekend.

Packet Pick-Up: We stayed right across the street at one of the race recommended hotels (Hyatt Place). This turned out to be a fantastic decision for race logistics as we could literally cross the street to get to everything. We were at the start line within 5 minutes of leaving our hotel. We arrived late on Friday night so made it to the packet pickup Saturday morning, a little before the 5k start time at 8am. We had plenty of time to grab our bibs and shirts, and check out some of the merchandise. The kids also had their own bibs with corresponding guardian bibs if a parent wanted to run with them.

Course: The course was totally flat for all races except the 5k and half had an overpass that you crossed at the very beginning and very end. The half had one other overpass within the last couple of miles to the finish but it wasn't too awful. Everything else though was flat. The scenery wasn't too exciting but it was nice running through the various neighborhoods and along the waterfront on the second half of the race. It was a little windy in that instance but at around mile 9 right as you exited the waterfront, there was a popsicle 'station' where volunteers handed out otter pops. That was a nice little treat when I was struggling mentally to push the last few miles.

The aid stations were well stocked with water and gatorade. I only had one instance where I was handed water in a gatorade cup but another volunteer was right behind to hand me the correct drink. There was also at least one station where gu's were handed out. There could have been more but I may have just missed it.

I really appreciated the setup of the corrals as I felt that it was one of the rare instances in a race where I was placed with people in the right speed categories. I was in corral 3 and positioned myself to the back. I never felt excessively passed or that I was passing a ton of people. The course also wasn't overly crowded so I didn't feel like I had to dodge around people throughout; but I also had a decent group near me at all times. Overall, it was a great experience in that perspective.

Swag: The fun stuff! So at packet pickup, you also got a shirt for all race distances. At the finish line for the half I received a beautiful medal that doubles as a beer bottle opener, a silver reusable solo cup for all the free beer at the post-race party, the crab soup and biscuit at the same party, and a few other yummy treats including Wegman's popcorn and the obligatory banana.

The post-race festival was a lot of fun, and great for family or friends also there to cheer you on. You could buy food and drinks in addition to what your race bib tickets would get you, and there was a live band playing the whole time I was there on both Saturday and Sunday. There was patio furniture scattered throughout and outdoor games setup including frisbee, table tennis, and giant Jenga. My kids were in heaven and thoroughly entertained.

Overall, it was a great race weekend. I would highly recommend this course if you are trying to PR and the proximity to the preferred hotels was so convenient. J&A Racing put on a great event. I'm looking forward to checking out more of them in the future!

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(2019)
"Beautiful Race in the Great Smoky Mountains"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was a beautiful race through the area surrounding the Great Smoky Mountains. While the course does not go directly within the park, it's in the surrounding areas in a point to point race, finishing right by the entrance to the Smokies.

EXPO: The expo is really efficient as Vacation Races tend to be. The registration often has a long line for bib pickup, but it goes quickly. I had signed up for the Black Bear Double (5k and Half Marathon) so I got a special registration tent that had no wait where I could also pickup my double 'bonus gift.' Choices included a mug, tank, t-shirt, trucker hat, and I think one or two other items. You then went to the main race t-shirt table and handed them the ticket on your bib for your shirt size. They had a separate table to make any shirt exchanges if the fit wasn't right for you. You then go to the hydro-pouch table if you opted for one when you registered. All of their races are cupless to reduce race-day waste, and the hydropouch is a nice option for hydration along the course. They even have special water/electrolyte dispensers on the course that fill really quickly, so you only stop for a second to fill up. They had a few additional vendors and their traditional s'more station.

HALF MARATHON LOGISTICS: The morning of the race you could either be dropped off at the start line (parking there was not an option as the location is locked up as soon as the runners leave), or dropped off at the finish line where a shuttle would then take you to the start. It was only about a 15 minute drive between sites and my friend made the last shuttle (it left at almost 6:40 though they said shuttles would only run till 6am so she was very lucky to catch that one and they clearly plan for dire last minute exceptions). The start line had coffee, hot chocolate, porta-potties, a space for drop bags, and an announcer who was raffling off items about every 5 minutes. It was a beautiful morning and the time went by quickly as we waited for the race to start.

COURSE: The course itself is beautiful and through a rolling, quiet, paved road. Trees lined one side and you ran along the river on the other. While there wasn't a lot of space for cheering squads, I actually didn't feel bored or antsy on the course. I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery and the little houses and RV spots that dotted the side of the road. The road was open but there was probably more bike traffic than actual car traffic. It was not an issue in sharing the road and people would call out 'car up, bike back, etc' as needed.

When I originally saw the elevation profile for the course, I had major concerns, but I actually found the course to be really pleasant. Maybe all my hill training in Raleigh paid off, but I don't really feel like it was an extreme elevation gain. There were a couple of short 'climbs' but overall it was such a gradual incline that I didn't feel like I was trudging uphill the entire time. The last 3 miles might be considered the most 'intense' but only in the sense that it's back in Townsend and fully exposed to the sun. However, it was early enough and close enough to the end that I was able to plough through and use the environment as extra motivation to be done with the race.

FINISH LINE: The finish line was super efficient with the same morning announcer reading out names of the participants as they came through. You immediately received your medal and then proceeded to the snack table that had chocolate milk, bananas, and a snack box with various goodies (including several gluten free snacks!). Lots of water for your hydro-pouches and more electrolytes were also available. I didn't stick around too long after, but they did have a race merchandise booth and the table for the Black Bear Challengers to pick up their extra medal (complete with spinner).

OVERALL: This was a fun, well-organized race. They said about 25% of their participants were running their first half marathon there. I didn't have any big issues during the half about people being in the wrong corrals, though the course had the typical starting mile congestion. It definitely thinned out as I progressed (I ran about a 2:23 half). I would definitely recommend this race, especially if you're looking for beautiful, natural scenery and lots of activities to do outside of the race.

Here's my blog post on the full weekend experience: http://fitnewtonblog.com/great-smoky-mountain-race-weekend-recap/

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(2019)
"Flat, Chicago Summer Race"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
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Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I love Rock N Roll races for the fact that I get to explore so many new cities on a pretty popular, tourist-destination filled route. RnR Chicago half was no different, though I think that in doing some of their shorter races, you would have gotten to see more iconic sites. The race took you through a decent tour of downtown, though you don't see the lakefront which I believe is part of the 5k route.

Expo and Swag: The expo was medium sized of the many RnR races that I've done. I thought it would have been a bit larger, but I think I was a little spoiled by the Vegas race. That being said, it generally had what I needed and I got to try quite a few new products. I would have liked a SIS booth, being that they were the energy gel sponsor of the course. There was a small display to purchase their products in the Brooks area. The packet pick-up process itself was pretty smooth and standard to their normal routine. The half marathon shirt was cute, and fits true to their normal sizing (a little small for the Women's fit but it's a tech shirt and they do let you know how the sizing fits when you register) and I'll wear it for my Fall/Winter training runs. You get a bag with a few small product samples, but nothing to write home about. KT Tape had a booth and was taping and educating runners on the process. They gave me a new way to tape my knee and the tape job that they did at the expo on Friday held up perfectly for the race on Sunday.

Access: We stayed at one of the race recommended hotels (Palmer House by Hilton) by the start line. It was a 5 minute walk to the start and a 10 minute walk back to the hotel after the race. That was a great decision and we didn't have to worry about having a car in the city or anything.

Corrals: The corrals were a bit of a mess. When I picked up my bib I noticed my corral was way off for where my predicted race time should have been. Someone at the expo was able to change it and they told me a lot of people had been coming to them with a similar issue. It took just a second to change, but that could have been pretty frustrating at the race itself. Race morning, the corrals were pretty small and the metal fencing was not wide enough to accomodate everyone that was supposed to be lined up together. They either needed to push the corrals back or widen the fencing, because I imagine that created quite a bottle-neck as people tried to push in once the starting gun went off.

Aid Stations: I thought that there was a good amount of aid stations on the course; about every two miles but I think the first one started shortly after mile 1? I bring my own hydration pack but I will stop if I feel it's running low or if I want to take gatorade. I wish there had been more SIS energy gels or that they were called out. I think they had them at two stops but I didn't see them until I had run past the water station and was dodging packs on the ground. I had thankfully packed my own but if I had relied on them I would have been pretty frustrated and would have had to run back to see who was handing them out.

Scenery: I don't know much about Chicago, but there were some fun sights that we ran past. I wish we had gone more along the park route where there are all the fun sculptures, or even the lake. The only issue I actually really had during the race was in the smile mile. The ground was a little wet from the rain and the 'posters' they put on the ground can get really slick. And they are pretty big so if you're passing while in a cluster of runners, you can't really avoid them. Entertainment on the course was good, though it didn't seem as supported as some other races that I've been to. I did love the Ferris Bueller stage though!

Elevation: This race was flat with some minimal inclines as you went over bridges and overpasses. I think the 'steepest' inclines were as your approached the last mile, but nothing too awful.

Finish Line: I don't think there were enough people handing out medals when I crossed through - I had to go out of my way to find someone to grab one, but I came in at a crowded 2:20 finish time.
Not a big deal, but something they might want to consider as it got congested as people tackled the couple of people handing them out.The finish chute had boxed waters (good), warm gatorade (not good), some various chips, and bananas. There was no chocolate milk at the finish which I've come to expect at RnR races. I saw there was a tent in the festival area (which I had immediately gone to), but was told they were already out by the time I got there... again, 2:20 finish so you'd think they would have been better prepared. No big deal, but I know people that love that as their post-race treat and it's become pretty expected for RnR.

I didn't stick around too long at the festival because it was such a HOT day that I was drenched in sweat. But they had a few vendors, merchandise booths, and massage tents. There was a decent line for the leg recovery sleeves.

Overall, it was a good race. They had a lot to deal with as the weekend was crazy hot, and storms were threatening Sunday's events too. I think if you want to get more of the city in, you would need to do the 5k as well. They did end up cancelling the 5k because of the weather but I understand that they are offering both deferrals and refunds for participants. They also gave them their medals at the end of the 10k/Half Marathon so you could still get them if you wanted them.

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(2019)
"Great, small, local race! Embrace the hills!"
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T-Shirts/SWAG
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A favorite local race, this one is challenging but fun. The majority of the racers are there for the half marathon, which leaves a small 10k crowd that takes off about 15 minutes after the half start. I did this race last year too, but this year the race logistics were a little different. Race management was good about communicating it, so we were prepared, it's just unfortunate that the local businesses couldn't be more supportive of this small race. Let me get into a bit more detail:

Registration: First, I didn't sign up for the race until the Friday before. I thought I had something else planned and was going to miss it, but as the weekend approached, I was reminded of the race, saw I had Sunday morning free and a 7 mile run planned, so I decided to just sign up for the 10k. The weather has finally started to heat up in Raleigh, so it chose this weekend to get nice and toasty. The race start at 7:15am definitely helped, but there's really no avoiding the temps this time of year.

Packet Pickup: I couldn't make the packet pickup, but they did offer it for morning of. I arrived early on Sunday morning and was able to pickup my bib. As I did not register until Friday, I had to come back after the race to pickup my shirt as they only had guaranteed sizes if you registered by a certain date. Totally understandable and they did end up having excess after I returned.

Parking: So this year, the company across the street from the race start was doing work on their building. We weren't allowed to park in the normal parking lot and according to race communication, the other nearby businesses denied the requests to use their parking. This was so disappointing to hear (not from the race but the lack of support from these Cary office complexes). Seriously, it's a Sunday morning and people are just parking and walking over to the start line. This isn't a marathon where people would be parked there all day and loitering in the lots as they warmed up. Get it together, Cary. Anyways. We were directed to park at Bass Pro Shops which is about a 10 minute walk to the start. Not horrible, and we just allowed for extra time to get to the start line. The walk back was a little intense in the full sun but can't avoid that.

Swag: The half marathon has medals but both distances have shirts. Each year they do a similar shirt design but new shirt color. It's not a race tech shirt but a traditional tee, but honestly, last year's shirt is one of my most worn race shirts. It's unisex sizing but not insanely large and they keep smaller sizes on hand. I love the fit and was excited to be able to get the new shirt (this year the color was brown with a green logo... felt very woodsy and Umstead-like in feel).

Course: Alright, I'm not going to lie. It's hilly. From the start line, you travel about half a mile on paved roads until you enter Umstead on a bridle trail. You cruise down a lovely descent trying not to think that this course is out and back. But from there, it's pretty much rolling hills. The course support is great with 3 aid stations passed twice; so basically 6 total for the 10k distance. This was perfect given the temps and how much effort you expend going into the hills. They had water an gatorade at all of the stops. As mentioned, the last hill is a doozy, but as soon as you conquer it you are basically headed into the finish line chute.

The finish line had lots of water, bananas, oranges, chips, donuts, etc. I didn't stick around for awards but apparently one of our friends got 3rd place in her age group. They had little plaques for age group awards; I'd definitely stick around next time given it's such a small race.

I'm glad I signed up for this one at the last minute. It's such a low-key race and I love the support of the local running community. I'm ready to draft a strongly worded letter to the property management companies surrounding the area, but hopefully if anything the regular business that is used is back to it's normal functioning ability and let's the race use it's parking lot again.

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(2019)
"Roanoke knows how to party! "
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
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Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I arrived to the race late Friday night so I wasn't able to attend the expo, but from what I understand, it's generally pretty small as they put out all the stops for the post-race festivities. The same vendors from the expo were at the post-race event plus tons more, so I kept the rating for the expo neutral. That being said, I did pick up my bib and shirt on race morning and the process was easy peasy. Waited in line maybe a full minute, and was given my bib and a nice tech shirt.

The race itself was well-run with plenty of aid stations, lots of hydration (both water and electrolyte drink at each stop, as well as a few aid stations that had salty and sweet snacks), and the residents were also out supplementing the aid with their own hydration (from water to champagne) and food (oranges, bananas, donuts, etc). They were seriously professionals at supporting this race! The town gets completely involved in the support and cheering and really made this race.

The views along the course were beautiful and even though it had some MAJOR climbs and descents, it provided a nice distraction from the intensity. I couldn't get enough of the sites and the crowd support kept me going.

I really felt like the race was a seamless experience. I had no negatives during the whole process (well, I might have been in denial about some of the hills), and it seemed like they had everything completely under control... if there were any hiccups, I couldn't see them!

Once you crossed the finish line, the fun didn't end! The finisher's village had tons of booths of merchandise, massages, food, and more. There was a photo booth that did animated images that were texted to you post-race, food trucks, a beer garden, and live bands jamming away. I was really apprehensive about this race due to the title 'America's Toughest Road Race,' but I honestly don't know the last time I've had that much fun in a half marathon. It was a truly awesome experience and I hope I can do it again with my whole family in tow next time!

Find my full race recap here: http://fitnewtonblog.com/foot-levelers-blue-ridge-half-marathon-recap/

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