Latest reviews by Christine Newton

(2019)
"Flat, Chicago Summer Race"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
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!"
Overall
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! "
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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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(2019)
"Breathtaking Views for the Zion Half Marathon"
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The Zion half marathon is a beautiful race that takes place leading up to the entrance of Zion National Park. My understanding is that it had been a different course for the last few years but the 2019 route is the original route from the inaugural race 7 years ago. It’s a steady, uphill climb from Virgin, Utah into Springdale, right at the base of the National Park entrance. While it is a race that has a positive elevation profile the entire time, it actually doesn’t feel like it except for a few points (mainly mile 6-7) and a few additional climbs towards the end. The scenery more than makes up for this seeming injustice though as you are surrounded by magnificent views for the entire race!

The expo took place the afternoon before the race at the same location as the finish line. The expo was modest but had a little bit of everything you would need. It had the added benefit of being next to a local outfitters so between the expo booths and the local store, you could get anything from shoes to hydration packs, gloves to buffs, etc. I also loved the variety of Vacation Races branded merchandise. They teamed up with the National Parks Project so there was a great selection of race specific and National Parks related merchandise.

As I was traveling to this race from out of state and had never been to Zion before, I relied heavily on the race guide that they emailed out about two weeks before the race. This handy document contained everything that I needed to know from race day logistics, the shuttle service, aid stations and bag drops, etc. And anything else that I didn't know or was uncertain about, I could ask on their Facebook page where they were quick to respond to questions. Leading up to race day, there was some really unexpected and ridiculously cold weather on the forecast. The organizers hosted a live chat before the race to address questions and talk everyone through how it would affect the race itself and what they were doing to stay on top of it. I found all of these things so beneficial and helpful. I think there was a lot of frustration from some participants about the race not being cancelled due to the weather, but it's really no different than any other race that I've participated in and the fact that they offered deferrals to another race in their series seemed more than generous. I was really impressed with how they handled the situation overall.

As for race day itself? I took the 5am shuttle that I pre-booked from my hotel in Springdale down to the start line which was about a 20 minute ride. From there we were immediately directed to a warming tent where they held a raffle for the duration of the wait to the start, as well as served hot chocolate and coffee in reusable cups. I loved that this race was so green: you also had the option of picking up a reusable cup at the expo to use during the race as they are trying to leave no trace (aka, litter) behind in our beautiful National Parks. About 15 minutes before the start of the race, they started calling the various corrals out to line up outside. They didn't make us wait too long to start, and soon we were on the way through the course.

The course itself is the paved road that leads to Springdale, Utah, so you are running just on the border of Zion National Park. This leaves amazing views for the duration of the race, which starts as the sun was just rising. Like I mentioned before, there was some extremely rare weather this year so it was freezing. But they also coordinated gear drops both at the start and the 3 mile point so you could shed layers as you started to warm up during the race.

The aid stations were good with water and electrolytes at every single one, and later on I started to see Honey Stinger gu's and bananas being served. There are no spectators on the course as it is a road that is in use during the race. That was probably the only part that I wasn't used to but honestly, the scenery was pretty spectacular so that kept my mind occupied for a lot of it.

Once you crossed the finish line, you were handled a beautiful and huge medal and funneled through to pick up your banana, pre-packed box of post-race snacks, and a chocolate milk. The post race snacks seemed to vary but generally it was goldfish, an Rx bar, trail-mix type individual pack, and a Honey Stinger waffle. Definitely a good assortment of treats to satisfy you post-race.

I would 100% do this race again and am eager to try out some other races within their series. They did a great job managing this event and the staff was helpful and courteous throughout the process. I volunteered at the expo and in exchange they offered free race credits. But during that process I also saw how they took care of attendees; I was helping out at registration and they were quick to assist with issues people had for cancellations, deferrals, and bib transfers. Oh and you can't forget the best part which is the partnership with National Parks. It was an amazing experience to run in such a beautiful environment and then take off on some hikes afterwards within Zion National Park. It's an experience I won't soon forget!

You can read more about my whole experience on my blog post:
http://fitnewtonblog.com/zion-trip-and-half-marathon-recap/

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(2019)
"A Brutal but Beautiful Race"
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The 2019 Antelope Canyon 50 miler was my first ultra marathon, and was a bit of a rude awakening. While I went into this race feeling as trained as I possibly could be (for my 1st 50 miler and relying on training plans of back to back runs instead of super-long single days of running), I knew that I was going to be at a disadvantage from not having trained with sand. I'm more centrally located within North Carolina and a beach run just wasn't a convenient option for training. Still, I ran our local state park which is hilly and, I had previously thought, pretty strenuous. AC put that to shame!

The race itself didn't feel overall hilly in terms of running elevation, but the challenge was more around the terrain. The 50 miler takes you through about 30 miles of deep sand, a little less than 10 miles of rocky areas with uneven ground (petrified sand dunes, slickrock, etc) and quite a bit of climbing... like hands and knees, might be sliding backwards as you're trying to move upwards climbing. Scooting down on your butt and praying for your life climbing. It was certainly an adventure. Of course, the last 10 mile loop is a mostly hard packed dirt trail. Saving that last part for your weary legs was a slight blessing though as you look over the cliff side at the drop from the Page Rim trail, it definitely still seems daunting.

The race day logistics went fine overall. There weren't any spectators along the way aside from at aid stations; much of the land is private, Native American owned and requires special permits even to be on it. That in itself felt pretty awesome as we had hours (and I mean, hours) to enjoy it during the race.

The 15 hour time limit seemed generous, but after losing a lot of time on the technical terrain, and let's be honest, posing for pics with some of the incredible backdrops and enjoying the variety of foods at the aid stations, I realized I was cutting it real close to the cutoff. I had to haul butt to make it across the finish line in time, but I successfully did.

I loved the finisher medal and the bottle of sand that the 50 milers could choose between. I opted for the sand as a more unique award for an ultra race experience. The medal itself was beautiful though and unlike anything else I would have had in my collection.

The aid stations were well supported and had a good variety of foods. Only one had started to run out of items during the race, but aside from that you had your choice of sweet and savory. Quesadillas, PB&Js, chips, turkey roll-ups, pretzels, swedish fish, m&ms, etc. The drop bags were also generally efficient though I heard of couple of participants had issues where their drop bags were not at the designated aid station; mostly from being sent back to the finish line before the second loop had been completed. Thankfully though, it didn't sound like a lot of people were facing that problem.

My only other issue was in the final 10 mile stretch, especially when running in the dark (as many of the 100 milers then had to do for the remainder of the night), finding some of the trail markers could be a challenge. It can be a little disconcerting when the trail itself isn't clear with the limited light to then wonder if you're still on it.

Aside from that, this race was a once in a lifetime experience for me. It was the most challenging thing I've ever done but the sense of accomplishment from surviving such a feat is pretty amazing. It definitely gave me the bug to start looking into my next ultra adventure. I have more details on my experience on my blog: http://fitnewtonblog.com/antelope-canyon-ultramarathon-recap/

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