Latest reviews by Ciara Doll

(2021)
"Fun on the 4th! "
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This was my first "mass start" since in-person racing returned -- and with the fun start and community atmosphere, this 5k made for a great holiday weekend event!

Pre-Run:
This is my 2nd time racing with Caren Ware Events, having run the Rodeo Run back in March. I signed up for this race online to run with my friend. The race was originally set to run in Anaheim, but since the race had been cleared to host a mass start instead of waves, it moved to Irvine Valley College to accommodate the larger crowd. This information was very clearly communicated by the race organizers and was much appreciated! While there was no pre-race packet pickup expo, there was a small expo set up the morning of that offered a number of future race registration opportunities and product samples. Parking was RIGHT next to the starting line (which you all know was a big plus for me!) As the crowds gathered and we got closer to the starting time, a FIFE AND DRUM BAND SHOWED UP! The band played along with live singers and a red/blue smoke bomb start!

The Race:
The course was one circular, flat, out-and-back circling the perimeter of the campus. There were a few fields before the first 0.5 mile marker that featured a charming farmhouse, but other than that, there wasn't much in the way of course scenery. There were two aid stations at the 1 and 2 mile markers. with friendly volunteers offering plenty of water!

Post-Race:
Here's where my only complaint for this race kicks in. The race was advertised as a "Red White and Blue/BREW" race with the option to have a special beer-themed medal. I was under the impression that a post-race beer would be available after the run to match the theme, however that was not the case. (Not a huge deal, but I had signed up for the BREW medal and it felt odd to have a beer-themed medal without any other beer elements in the race, so I traded it in for a normal medal instead.) Upon crossing the finish, we all received a nice sliding medal and a flag t-shirt (in a very...bold pattern.. haha!) the band had returned and I made sure to get a photo with them in their colonial costumes!

Tips:
(I don't have any for this race! It was straight forward, well managed/supported, and had an easy course perfect for all types of runners!)

Final Thoughts:
Despite the confusion in the alternative themes, the patriotic race had a fun, festive atmosphere, easy course, and a well-organized group running the show! If you're looking to get your family involved in an annual holiday fun run, Caren Ware Events has a great 4th of July option!

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(2021)
"An Absolute BLAST on the Course! "
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This may have been hands-down one of the best races I’ve run in a long time! The on-course atmosphere was AMAZING! The Rock ‘n’ Roll race series is definitely a can’t miss!

Pre-Run:
I signed up for this run as part of the Remix Challenge back in late 2020, amid a lot of in-person racing uncertainty. Originally set for June, I received word it was moving to October. At the time, I had purchased race insurance, and I actually used it to cancel my registration after numerous people told me most RnR races were being cancelled. Of course, this one stuck, so I re-signed up for the Remix Challenge again! This race offers a GIANT expo (if you’re a RunDisney runner, this will all feel very familiar to you), and this one took place inside the San Diego Convention Center. The expo was very straight-forward and provided plenty of signage and volunteers to help any lost runners or answer any questions. After receiving our bibs and shirts, we passed through the official RnR shop and then onto the expo floor, filled with booths and photo opps. If expo shopping isn’t your thing, this expo is VERY easy to get in and out of! (On a bit of a bizarre sidenote, make sure you double-check your merch – I found and notified staff that a large number of their smaller souvenir items (magnets, pins, bottle openers) had “Half Marathon” misspelled as “Half MaraTON!” The team was kind enough to mark everything down due to the error, but when I told them, I was apparently the only person to catch the error, and the expo had been open for multiple hours by the time I arrived!)

The next morning, I made a point to get up EARLY to catch an Uber to the start, since I did not drive to San Diego. I’m not sure if it was due to my hotel location, or to the race morning in general, but it was VERY difficult to book a car. I ended up searching multiple ride-share apps, spent about 15-20 minutes waiting, and ended up paying extra for priority pickup on Lyft because I was nervous about missing the starting line. When my driver pulled up to the recommended drop-off, it was a MADHOUSE. Most runners chose to use ride-share services due to the lack of parking near the start, and my driver was fortunately able to find a place to pull over for me to exit, but there were cars backed up down the street and all the way to the exit ramp. Take this as a GIANT CUE to plan ahead!!!

I arrived with enough time to spare, including a bit of a walk from my drop-off spot to my corral. That walk was about 5 minutes tops, but if you’re cutting it close, the last thing you want is to SPRINT to your corral.

The was plenty of music at the starting line and announcers from the 5k were back to hype up the crowd. I thought it was really cool that the race had a spanish-speaking announcer too to make the starting line festivities more inclusive!

The Race:
Like the 5k the day before, this race implemented a new starting pattern. In addition to all runners being placed in corrals, runners were then filed up to the starting time mat in mini corrals, about 15 across. A systematic siren let one person from each of the 15 mini corrals go at once every 10 seconds or so. This was done to create a staggered start and prevent starting-line congestion while also being socially distant and COVID-friendly. Personally, I liked this method – it was quick, spacious, and they even placed a photographer right out the gate to get a clear shot of each runner taking off!

The runners of both the half and full marathon took off at the same time and ran together on the course for the first 8.5ish miles before splitting off. The course starts running north before turning down University Avenue until about mile 2.5. From there, runners turn north up 30th Street and weave around Mountain View Dr. in Normal Heights. At mile 6, start a square zig-zag down toward East San Diego reaching the full and half marathon split off point. Half marathon runners continued south heading into Balboa Park around mile 10 for a nice, fast descent toward B Street. The final mile runs east, finishing at Union Street. After the course split, those who chose to run the full marathon headed back west and weaved their way all the way out to Mission Bay, turning around just outside of SeaWorld. Runners then headed east toward Linda Vista before turning south down through Balboa Park and to the Union Street finish line.

I noticed something interesting once the course split. There were numerous signs and a man with a bullhorn notifying runners of the split, however, numerous full marathon runners missed the info and kept running with the half, only to discover their error MILES later! Many had to turn around, run BACK to the split and THEN continue with the rest of the course! With that being said, this may be the most important tip of this race – watch where you’re going!!!

The real magic of this race came from the course atmosphere. There were 20 race-sponsored music and entertainment groups along the courses and numerous local organizations and people coming out to entertain and cheer on runners! Some of my favorites included a Tom Cruise Top Gun impersonator at mile 2, a Ron Burgundy impersonator at mile 6, a drag show at mile 1.5, and the hard rock band around mile 11! As for “unofficial” entertainment, there were cheer squads, local clubs, and my personal favorite, the homes on Mountain View Dr who turned their driveways into run-through bars, pouring shots for runners as they passed! That was my only “aid” stop of the day, and it was the best!

Post-Race:
A big race comes with an even BIGGER after-party, and this one did not disappoint! Finishers received NUMEROUS post-run snacks and fluids upon crossing the finish line, as well as multiple photo opp stops for race photographers to take a photo of you basking in your victory! From there, runners were directed down the hill toward the waterfront where the party was in full swing! There was a selection of live music, as well as numerous tents and booths from the expo back to support the runners. Racers were also treated to a post-run beer garden hosted by the weekend’s sponsor, Heineken 0.0. All runners received a free non-alcoholic Heineken beer, with alcoholic Heineken varieties available for purchase. There was also an official RnR pop-up shop as well as a tent for runners to get their medals engraved. It was a TON of fun!

Tips:
-WHAT YOUR SIGNS! This feels like a weird request but I was SHOCKED at the number of full marathon runners I saw on the back part of the half course who had mistakenly taken the wrong turn and had to run all the way back to split to continue on the right course. So unless you love the idea of running an ultra, take a look at the map before race day to make note of the split placement and WATCH FOR THE SIGNS!
- All runners are required to show a proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-test within the last 72 hours prior to participating in the race or entering the expo. This rule also applies to any guests attending the expo with you,
- If you visit the Heineken booth at the expo, they will check your ID in advance and provide you with a wristband that will allow you to skip the ID check at the post-race beer garden!

Final Thoughts:
From the on-course entertainment and crowd enthusiasm to the pre-race expo and post-race festival, this race was big, bold, and oh so much FUN! I’ve been bit by the Rock ‘n’ Roll bug, and I now see what all the hype is about! Can’t wait for my next RnR race!

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(2021)
"A Beautiful Tour of Balboa Park! "
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This was my first Rock ‘n’ Roll experience, and this new course through beautiful Balboa Park was a great start to kick off the weekend!

Pre-Run:
I signed up for this run as part of the Remix Challenge back in late 2020, amid a lot of in-person racing uncertainty. Originally set for June, I received word it was moving to October. At the time, I had purchased race insurance, and I actually used it to cancel my registration after numerous people told me most RnR races were being cancelled. Of course, this one stuck, so I re-signed up for the Remix Challenge again! This race offers a GIANT expo (if you’re a RunDisney runner, this will all feel very familiar to you), and this one took place inside the San Diego Convention Center. The expo was very straight-forward and provided plenty of signage and volunteers to help any lost runners or answer any questions. Specifically for the 5k pick-up, corrals were being assigned as your received your bib based on the estimated finish time you provided during registration. When I was handed my bib, I didn’t have a corral number on it, but I didn’t think much of it and went to the next booth. I ran this race with my mom, and she DID receive a corral, so we ended up having to visit the race solutions table to make sure she and I were placed in the same corral. The fix was simple and easy thanks to the helpful volunteer! (One thing that was a bit tricky about this pick-up was that, despite the bag check tag printed on the bib, the 5k did NOT offer a bag check.) After receiving our bibs and shirts, we passed through the official RnR shop and then onto the expo floor, filled with booths and photo opps. If expo shopping isn’t your thing, this expo is VERY easy to get in and out of!

The next morning, we took an Uber to the start line since we did not drive to San Diego. That being said, the race had plenty of parking available RIGHT next to the start line for FREE! A runner’s dream! We had no issue getting to the starting line since the race corrals and start were situated in the parking lot, but we also added extra time to get there. The announcers at the starting line were fired up and playing music to get the crowd excited for the race!

The Race:
This race marked a number of firsts for the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego 5k. First, this race implemented a new starting pattern. In addition to all runners being placed in corrals, runners were then filed up to the starting time mat in mini corrals, about 15 across. A systematic siren let one person from each of the 15 mini corrals go at once every 10 seconds or so. This was done to create a staggered start and prevent starting-line congestion while also being socially distant and COVID-friendly. Personally, I liked this method – it was quick, spacious, and they even placed a photographer right out the gate to get a clear shot of each runner taking off!
This 5k also marked the debut of a new course. Starting at Inspiration Point, runners ran west, turning north just before reaching the site of the Comic-Con Museum and heading north, passing the Spreckels Organ Pavilion and turning through the courtyard outside of the San Diego Museum of Art. Runners followed the curving path left, running down El Prado and crossing Cabrillo Bridge to reach Mile 1. From here, the course made a giant loop down 8th Avenue and Balboa drive, turning left onto Juniper Road and heading north around the perimeter of the park until the course turned right on Upas avenue and returned down Balboa drive for a finish near Redwood Circle.
In terms of course support, there was a water station around the halfway point as well as numerous volunteers. There were also a ton of spectators supporting racers from the sidelines, and even an entire cheerleading team showed up to cheer on runners down El Prado just before crossing the bridge!

Post-Race:
Racers crossing the finish line were created with tons of post-run snacks and water, as well as a beer garden hosted by the weekend’s sponsor, Heineken 0.0. All runners received a free non-alcoholic Heineken beer, with alcoholic Heineken varieties available for purchase. The party was completed by a DJ playing music for everyone to dance to and enjoy at the afterparty!

Tips:
- All runners are required to show a proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-test within the last 72 hours prior to participating in the race or entering the expo. This rule also applies to any guests attending the expo with you,
- Despite the bag check tag printed on the bib, there is NO bag check available for this race, so plan accordingly and pack light!
- This course is almost entirely inside Balboa Park, so watch out for things such as uneven pavement, or tree debris while running along the path.
- If you visit the Heineken booth at the expo, they will check your ID in advance and provide you with a wristband that will allow you to skip the ID check at the post-race beer garden!

Final Thoughts:
This stress-free and fun race (with it’s post-run beer garden) was such an awesome way to kick off the weekend and for an out-of-towner like me, a great opportunity to see the sights of beautiful Balboa Park!

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(2021)
"HARD Night Race with Beautiful Views! "
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This was hands-down the hardest half marathon I've run to date. The terrain was hilly, the course was dark, and the heat was unrelenting -- but the views! Taking place in the Nevada desert in summer heat, this day/night race is one-of-a-kind and not for the faint for heart!

Pre-Run:
I had originally registered for a spring race with Calico Racing, but I was unable to attend, so I switched my registration to Running with the Devil -- and the race management team was so nice and quick to respond! This is a smaller race team, so there is no large expo or pre-race day packet pick-up. 5k/10k/half marathon runners could register to run at either 7:30am or 7:30pm for a night run, while the larger distances only had a morning start option. Knowing desert heat, and looking for a unique running experience, I signed up for the night run. Unlike the day runners, night runners were required to wear BOTH a front and back reflective vest as well as a wearable lamp (or carry a flashlight). If you're staying in Vegas, the drive out to Lovell Canyon is simple to follow. It was easy to spot the race set-up right along the road, and parking was RIGHT AT THE START LINE! I picked my bib and shirt up, and we were on our way at 7:30!

The Race:
This course ran up Lovell Canyon Road into the desert for 6.5 miles before turning around and coming back to the start. For the first 4 miles, it is a deceptively tough steady incline before getting some relief with a few downward curves. The best part of the course came at mile 5 with a fast downhill curve into a valley. But, that steep downhill turn comes back to bite you on mile 7, as it is a HARD uphill climb. The ultimate reward came around mile 8.5, with a steady gentle downhill return to the finish line. In terms of nightfall, there was enough sunlight at 7:30 that I didn't turn on my vest light until about 8:15 or so. The road, while sparsely populated, does not officially close during the race, so there were times when cars would pass by. Being out in the middle of the desert is no joke -- even with the moonlight and a bright LED light, it was DARK! The temperatures did cool off a bit, and this year we had a exceptionally excessive heat wave with temps around 115 during the day. The night race did cool off a bit, but if you're not a Nevada-native, this can be really challenging to deal with -- especially without any wind to provide relief. The heat and low vision can really mess with you mentally here! The race organizers did a nice job with first aid assistance and PLENTY of water stops -- those were a real game changer!

Post-Race:
This post race was really special to me because I placed 2nd for the women's division of the night half! I received a lunchbox cooler (very convenient for storing things in this heat!) as well as a nice medal. The team had plenty of water and snacks available too! It was a small group, but I was impressed with all of the food and drinks they came prepared with for the racers! I actually got a bit light-headed due to the conditions, so I really appreciated all the aid!

Tips: (there's a bunch for this one!)
- It is HOT -- bring a water pack with extra water and don't pass up any aid stations if you are running without a pack. The night temps are deceiving and it's still hot out there! Especially without wind. Wear a bandana around your neck and dump water on it at each station to keep your neck and face cool!
- Make sure your light has enough batteries or charge to last you for the duration of the race -- mine was getting a bit dim toward the end!
- This road is a bit bumpy -- watch out for uneven ground, especially during the night race!
- Night runners are required to be reflective from BOTH the front and back!
- Pace yourself accordingly in anticipating of that tough climb returning up out of the valley
- Make sure your phone is with you and charged -- I was surprised to find that I had no cellphone service issues, even when out in the middle of nowhere. If you're concerned that you may need medical attention and can't locate a first aid station near you, you can use your phone to call the organizers! (They also paced the course often, so you are never truly without assistance!)
- If this is your first night race, or first high heat race, take your time, practice beforehand if you can, and watch your fluids!!!! (It's so important, I've put it on the tip list twice!)

Final Thoughts:
There's something so magical about being alone out in nature under the stars! As a Midwest transplant into a bustling city, being back out in the wilderness was a joy! But this one is no joke -- you really will believe you're running with the devil in heat like this!

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(2021)
"Downtown Highlights (and one hard hill!)"
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This is a great race for those looking to run San Diego in a more relaxed setting, with plenty of on/off-course support and a wonderful Gaslamp finish!

Pre-Run:
I signed up for the half marathon, while my mom decided to join for the 5k. We took the train down from LA and arrived the same day as the expo. While this expo was much smaller than larger race organizations such as RunDisney or Rock n' Roll SD, the bib pick up was quick and easy -- we were in and out in less than 5 minutes! After leaving the bib pick-up area, we made our way to the tents, featuring merchandise, samples, and upcoming race advertisements. My only complaint here was for the lack of signage directing runners to the expo entrance. We, along with a number of other runners, roamed around the area for a few minutes before a volunteer pointed us in the right direction.

On race morning, since we did not drive to San Diego, we opted to Uber. We were nervous about trying to get to the starting area, since it was in front of the convention center, but we were surprised to find that drop off was relatively easy due to the fact that only one side of the street was closed off for the race. The pre-race atmosphere was fun and festive, complete with music and a group of announcers to hype up the runners!

The Race:
The 5k racers were sent off first, followed by the half marathoners. Due to the numerous waves of 5k runners, a majority of half marathoners were released as the sun was rising -- which meant we were in for a HOT run. The course started in front of the convention center, running along the water toward Harbor Island and the airport. From there, we turned right and headed along the north side of the airport and curving around heading east. Around mile 8-9, we climbed a HARD uphill climb in Hillcrest before turning back south and running along the west side of Balboa park and finishing in the Gaslamp District.

On course support for water and medical care was fantastic! There were plenty of volunteers ready to help. I had to stop at the medical tent at the 10k mark to address some knee pain and the volunteers were prompt, helpful, and knowledgeable.

Post-Race:
After crossing the finish line, we were all given our medals (gorgeous, and with bright blue rhinestones!) in pre-packaged goodie bags containing water, snacks, and other coupons/codes/advertisements. From there, I went to meet up with my mother, but, like at the expo, we ran into difficulties finding the runner exit due to a lack of signage.

Tips:
- Prepare for the heat! Dress accordingly and don't skip the hydration stations if you aren't carrying your own supply!
- Plan to either take public transit or a rideshare service to the starting line, as parking was not easily located as far as I could tell.
- While at the starting line, watch out for traffic in the opposite lane, as the road is only partially closed.
- Be on the lookout for volunteers if the signage is unclear -- they're super helpful!

Final Thoughts:
Overall, this race is a perfect option for returning runners looking to see the sights of downtown San Diego, new runners wanting to tackle a bigger race without "mega" race pressures, or anyone interested in making a mini "race-cation" out of this event. With a fun expo, lively start, and fantastic Gaslamp finish, this race has something for everyone!

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