Latest reviews by Christine Newton

(2020)
"Nice and flat half marathon for PR conditions!"
Overall
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Parking/Access
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I had a great time running the Hilton Head half marathon this past weekend. We really lucked out with the weather. The storm passing through two days earlier left cool temps and minimal wind. I arrived late on Friday night after driving down from Raleigh, so couldn't make it to the expo. Thankfully they offered bib and swag pick-up the morning of the race.

Start Time: This was great for us because we didn't have to get up too early, and could still arrive with plenty of time to grab our bib, vest, and get back to the car to drop our packets off.

Race Logistics: The host hotel was about a 15 minute drive from the start line. Not ideal, but the hotel location was directly on the beach, so you could at least get a full Hilton Head experience before or after the race. Race day parking was at the local high school across the street from Jarvis Park, the start line location. We arrived right at 7 and got a parking spot right in front. It was less than 10 minutes walking to the registration area where we easily picked up our bib and fleece vests. The fleece vest was an awesome change from the typical race swag.

There were porta potties and a public restroom, though the latter was just two stalls so had a much longer wait. The start line was a few steps away, so everything was really easy to navigate on race morning.

The Course: The course was flat as a pancake except for an overpass that the half marathon traveled over twice. The road wasn't completely closed off to traffic, but it wasn't super busy that early in the morning, and the cones left a generous amount of safe space for the runners. While we ran on one side of the road for the whole race, I didn't find it excessively graded to where I felt lopsided or uncomfortable. I've definitely had that experience (hello Smokey Mountain half!) and aside from a couple of times where I shifted over to adjust, it was fine.

Race aid was water stops every two miles. Starting at the water station, they also had gatorade and they seemed to have it every other station. No gels or GUs along the course but I know they had some at the expo the day before (according to posts I saw on their social media).

The distances all started together, which was a little congested at the start, though it thinned out as soon as the 8k split off to return back to the park. There is no crowd support on the course, so if you rely on that, it's going to be a challenge. The course had some beautiful views over the overpass, and you briefly enter a park that has some turns through the trail and parking area where you make up mileage before the half marathon turns around to head back. That was the only part of the race that slowed me down. The previous reviewer that complained about the 'trail' is pretty hilarious. It literally was a short strip that took you back to the road, I would question even calling it .25 miles.

Heading back, I found myself now running into the headwind so it was a little more challenging. But it was the same course as before, so I knew what to expect. Coming down from the overpass the second time, I had a little burst of speed to take me into the final couple of miles. I was able to pick up my pace and power through, ultimately getting the PR that I had been training for.

The race medal was really nice. Nothing fancy, but clean and a nice embossed design that was better-looking than the flat digital pictures posted pre-race. The finisher's area had a tent where you could look up your individual results, an awards tent (they awarded to the top 3 of the various age groups, as well as overall top 3 for the distances). There was a kettle corn tent, dj, and finisher food area that had pizza, bananas, granola bars, and the post-race beer (your bib came with two beer tickets for your free drinks). Oh, there was also a photographer on the course. I saw him a couple of times, but not sure what the deal is with photos (if they're free or not), but as the race was pretty no-frills overall, I'm not really concerned either way.

I would definitely recommend this race for someone looking for a winter race with PR-worthy course. It offers the basics and was well run, with nice swag and no fuss.

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(2020)
"A sweet race experience"
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This fun, hilly race takes you all around the Charlotte area. It starts at First Ward Park which is easily accessible from the Uptown Charlotte area, and is directly off of the light rail. The expo was small but had a lot of options for gear and opportunities to sample sweets. The options to pickup your bib are limited (just Friday expo hours which only went until 6pm), but you could request your bib to be sent to you ahead of time when you registered.

The swag included a nice, zip up, lined jacket, and bowl of sweets and chocolate dip once you cross the finish line, as well as a cup of piping hot chocolate, and free race photos that were emailed to you on race day. Pretty cool for the reasonable registration price, and I love the choice of race distances (the 5k or 15k). Better than the typical 5k only or even 10k option.

There wasn't a ton of crowd support throughout the race, but the aid stations were frequent and efficient. About halfway through they started offering chocolate or other sweets like marshmallows. The course is rolling hills the entire time, but it wasn't awful. Definitely a good workout! I'd definitely recommend this race to someone looking for a challenge but that wants that sweet, sweet swag!

Check out my blog post for a more detailed review of the race weekend: http://www.fitnewtonblog.com/race-recap-charlotte-allstate-hot-chocolate-15k-5k/

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(2019)
"Awesome Race Weekend and a Perfect PR Course"
Overall
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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"
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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
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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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