Latest reviews by Ciara Doll

(2021)
"A Wonderful Return to SoCal Racing! "
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Course Scenery
Expo Quality
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After a year of no in-person racing in Southern California, it was so refreshing to be back together and this event was a great way to kick it off! From the smaller crowds, rolling start times, and AWESOME belt buckle medal, Caren Ware Events put on a safe and fun event!

Pre-Run:
I registered for the race online. The race management team sent numerous emails detailing pre-race packet pickup, COVID rules for safe running, and general event info. I chose to pick up my packet on race-day morning since I drove down from LA. Because this race was themed, I chose to fully lean into it and I dressed up in an inflatable horse costume! The race management team had lots of fun photo backdrops set up at packet-pickup. Parking was PERFECT -- it was in the same parking lot as pre-race staging and there were plenty of spaces available! If you know me, you know my 3 pillars of race parking (easy to find, cheap/free, close to the race start) and this was one of those rare instances when all 3 happened!

The Race:
Up the road and around the corner from parking and pick-up was the race start. Runners were able to run anytime between 6:30-8:00 am. The course was a super straight-forward out and back loop along the waterway. 10k/5k runners ran the entire course together, with 10k runners continuing beyond for a larger loop. This course was a mix of concrete sidewalks and dirt pathways. Due to the altered race format, the pathways were shared with non-racers. This usually wasn't an issue, but there were a lot of bikers on the path during the 2nd half of the race, and some of them would ride a bit too close to runners. This is not at all an issue with the race itself or race management, but it is something to note if you're planning to walk, run with a stroller, or run/walk with pets (this race is both dog/stroller friendly). The first half of the course runs along the river -- it's more of a dried-up riverbed than a river, so the scenery isn't really remarkable until you near the golf course later down the path.

Post-Race:
The post-race festival started off with a BEAUTIFUL, themed medal (we had the choice between gold or silver at the finish line) that converted into a belt buckle! From there, the post-race festivities continued back over by packet pickup with the previously mentioned photobooths as well as a mechanical bull!

Tips:
- Parking is every runner's dream, but it does require a tad bit of side street weaving if you aren't familiar with the area.
- Try to plan on running earlier in the start time window to avoid the bikers and runners that share the road. They tend to arrive a bit later in the morning.
- There isn't a lot of shade on this route, so don't forget your sunscreen and a hat/sunglasses!

Final Thoughts:
Caren Ware Events hosted a wonderful, intimate and fun race that is perfect for all running levels and a safe racing experience for anyone itching to get back into SoCal in-person racing! Will definitely return for another event hosted by this awesome team!

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(2021)
"RaceMaker Productions is Back with Another Great Race! "
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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I ran the 4 Hour Freeze with RMP last month and had such a good time I came back for this 5k! They modified the course to avoid the narrow out and back, making this one not only a more enjoyable course but increased the distance between runners for an even safer experience!

Pre-Run:
Parking was SUPER close to start, and everyone was socially distant. Packet pickup was quick, and due to new pandemic rules, the medals and sweatshirts were given out before the race. The medals were surprisingly large and the sweatshirt is super cozy! (Hint: I'm wearing it as I type this review :P)

The Race:
The race organizers kept the race small, and runners were assigned to "waves" of about 20-25 runners in each wave. Runners lined up in spaces to stay distant and were counted off by the organizers. The course started by the NCAA Headquarters and passed by the IUPUI campus before crossing the bridge and looping back around the other side of the river near the Indy Zoo. There was a short loop around the wide center bridge leading back toward the zoo, followed by a second short loop back in front of the NCAA Headquarters (back over the same starting path) before coming back to the finish. Due to COVID, there were no aid stations on the course, but there were plenty of water bottles at the finish!

Post-Race:
COVID prevented any sort of major festivities after the race, but the volunteers were there to play music and take pictures! The nearby parking made the post-race exit a breeze!

Tips:
- There is PLENTY of parking nearby, but both of the close lots are pay lots, so expect to spend money if you want to park near the start/finish.
- Don't forget your mask! Due to the cold, I recommend doubling it up with a warm buff to keep your neck warm too.
- Watch out for ice on the bridge! People are tempted to pass in this area since some runners slow up to go up the incline, but watch your step!

Final Thoughts:
RaceMaker Productions put on another safe and fun race! It felt so great to be out and run with others as a (socially distant) community! Highly recommend if you're looking for a safe in-person event!

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(2021)
"Beachfront Course -- Beautiful, but Brutal in the Heat! "
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This is my second time running Surf City, and it certainly delivers on the name! This course runs up the PCH, offering white sand and ocean surf for a majority of the race!

Pre-Run:
I ran the 2020 Surf City Half Marathon (a month before COVID hit) and had a blast, so I opted to run it again. This time I took on the Cowabunga Challenge, running the Surf City Beach Mile the day prior. I had originally anticipated being unable to attend the expo, so I paid the $25 for race-day pickup. Since I ended up attending and no longer needed the paid pick-up, I spoke to a volunteer at the Solutions booth and they were able to refund me the pick-up fee! Surf City offers one of my favorite expos in SoCal, and I was excited to attend this year. Due to COVID, the expo was scaled down a bit, and took place outside in the parking lot rather than inside the main event tent, but still had plenty of offer! There were photo ops, product samples, merchandise booths, live music, and even collection of vintage VW vans on display! Runners who registered for the race received a really nice shirt as well as a durable, fun reusable tote bag (these things really hold up!)

The following morning on race day, I arrived with my friend and we padded our schedule with time to look for parking. We were able to find free parking, but it was a bit of a hike away from the starting line. We ended up arriving to our corral with about 10 minutes to spare. Rather than assigning corrals in advance, runners were self-seeded into various waves, marked with large signs of anticipated finish times. These corrals were JAM PACKED. We were body-to-body for a few minutes, and due to COVID, I opted to pull my neck bandana off and wear it as a makeshift mask until we were released and able to spread out.

This race weekend offers three main events for runners: the 5k, half marathon, and full marathon. The marathoners were released first, starting at 6:30a to give them ample time to clear the first part of the course. After that, the 5k started at 7:00a, followed by the half marathoners at 7:45a. This would be fine, but with the summer weather still lingering, temperatures were HOT by 8, which made the half marathon a very steamy run. This race is usually run in February, and last year the cooler temperatures kept this race breezy and very enjoyable! Ideally, it would have been nice if the 5k and half marathon had been able to have a side-by-side start, with the course split for the first 1.5 miles until the 5k turnaround point, allowing for an additional 45 minutes of significantly cooler temps for the half marathoners before the sun comes out. (A girl can dream!)

The Race:
Similar to last year, this course starts by Huntington Beach Pier, heading north on the PCH before turning right on Seapoint and climbing the first (and really, only) hill, making a large loop in a residential area before returning down toward the PCH. From there, the course turns right and continues north, entering what, in my opinion, is the hardest part of the course. This loooooong straightaway is, honestly, the whole "mental game" of running is really tested here. It's flanked with large sand dunes on either side, and while the ocean views on one side is beautiful to see, the opposite side is the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, which is pretty barren and empty (unless you're super into wetlands?). This stretch is void of trees, so be prepared to SWEAT into overdrive! After heading north for a while. runners turn around and follow this same path, skipping the previous turn and running straight back to the start.

Perhaps I didn't notice it until I was looking for one, but, while there were plenty of water stations throughout the race, it seemed like there weren't as many medical tents as I was expecting, especially in the heat. Many runners who get overheated or need medical attention during this race often need assistance on the long straightaway, as it offers no shade., I only saw one medical tent on this section of the run. If I could change anything about this race, I would add one more medical tent along this straightaway.

Previously, the course was lined with local bands to play festive music for runners as they passed by. This year, most likely due to COVID, there were no official band stages, but there were a ton of spectator groups spread out along the course to wave signs, and a few even had drums to play!

Post-Race:
Runners received a finish filled with fanfare, as locals and volunteers lined the course to cheer on the athletes! Volunteers were everywhere, handing out medals as well as plenty of fluids and snacks. Runners also received a free beer voucher for the Finish Line Beer Garden! All runners had to have their IDs on hand in order to receive a wristband for entry into the garden, so be sure to have it with you, if you don't already carry it with you during the race! The expo is also open post-race, with all the photo-ops a fitness influencer could desire!

Tips:
- BEWARE THE HEAT! Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Wear sunblock! Slow down if need be!
- If you are a runner that relies on medical tents for things such as BioFreeze, or band-aids, keep your eyes peeled and stop at them if you get the chance, because there are few opportunities to do so on the long stretch!
- If you are able to attend the expo the day before, take the opportunity! It's a great way to get hyped for the weekend and get into the Surf City spirit!
- This is a crowded starting line. Even as a vaccinated runner, I would recommend bringing a bandana (I use mine as a cooling towel during the race) as a makeshift mask since it was impossible to socially distance.
- Build in extra time to park and walk to the start -- unless you are there early for the marathon, do not expect to find parking anywhere close to the starting line.
- Don't forget to bring your ID with you as you run if you want to participate in the Beer Garden!

Final Thoughts:
With two Surf City Half Marathons under my belt, this race is a fun way to embrace the surfing spirit of SoCal and the excitement of big races! Be prepared for the challenging straightaway, and the heat, but the payoff is so great with beach views and cold beer!

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(2021)
"Surf City Beach Mile -- Sunsets and Sand, Oh My!"
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This sunset fun run may be short, but it's definitely sweet! A great option for families, and a fun warmup for runners doing the Cowabunga Challenge!

Pre-Run:
This was my second time running the Surf City Half Marathon, and, as always, the race management team hosts an excellent Expo. I drove down on Friday afternoon to pick up my bib for the Half, the only race I was registered for at the time. When I arrived, I noted that there were still spots left to sign up for the Beach Mile -- which meant I could run both and complete the Cowabunga Challenge (and 2 more medals for the weekend!). Not being one to turn down a challenge, I signed up that day. I got there a bit too early (totally my fault!) and spent the afternoon hanging out in Huntington Beach and exploring the expo before the race began. Parking for the race met that rare goal of mine: it was close to the start, easy to find, and free! The starting line for the race was just next door to the Expo, right on the beach! My only complaint about the pre-race area is that there was no bag check or area to place items. I fortunately had enough time to run them back to my car, but many people simply left their shoes and bags in the sand near the finish area. (I don't have enough trust for that!)

The Race:
This course was a simple out and back on the sand. Runners ran toward the pier, turned around at the cone markers, and ran back. Due to the sand being pretty soft, this is a surprisingly tricky mile! Upon registration, runners received a fun themed superhero cape to wear during the race -- it was so fun to see so many capes running down the beach!

Due to the short nature of the race, there were no water stations on the course, however there were multiple volunteers pointing out the turnaround point and cheering runners on as well as a photographer to capture finish line photos!

Post-Race:
All finishers received a medal, and were greeted at the finish line with multiple snacks, including chips and fruit cups. Since it was just next door to the expo, runners were encouraged to return to the expo area, where there were merchandise tents, product samples, and even live music!

Tips:
- This is a sandy fun run! Most people chose to run this barefoot, but if you'd prefer to wear shoes, wear a pair you don't mind getting lots of sand in!
- If you're new to running on sand, expect this to be a bit tricky! You'll be surprised to feel the impact on your knees that running on sand has, even with a short distance like this!
- Do not plan on taking anything with you to the starting line that you don't plan to run with -- keep your bags and other personal items in your car. If you feel comfortable to leave your shoes at the finish line, you can do so, but be warned that there is no dedicated volunteer to watch over these items, and the race is not liable if something should happen to them when you return.
- This is a FUN run! There will be lots of families there, especially small children. Watch out for them!

Final Thoughts:
This sunset beach run was such a good time! It's a perfect race for Surf City athletes to warm up before the next day's big events, and offers a a fun way for runners to get their non-running family and friends involved in the weekend action! Soak up the sun, feel the sand in your toes, and stick around afterward for music and fun!

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(2021)
"Casual Race, Nice Swag Bag, COVID Friendly! "
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This is a great race if you're a run/walker, new to running, easing back in, or running with someone who wants a more relaxing race experience. Beautiful day, friendly and encouraging course support, and a nice swag bag to top it off!

Pre-Run:
Registration was online and very straightforward. Because of work schedules, we weren't able to pick up our packets until race morning, and the organization was super accommodating to that! Parking was literally steps from the start, but the lot isn't super huge, so make sure you give yourself extra time! We lucked out and found one of the last spots left! We arrived about 30 minutes before the posted start time, but to our surprise, when we arrived, the race had already started! The race directors had decided to do a staggered start and allow runners to begin running as soon as they arrived. At first we were worried we had missed an email update, but once we learned what was up, we were glad they did! We went to the check-in booth and received our swag bags, which were surprisingly full of not just our race swag (more on that later) but also fun Valentine's Day candy treats!

The Race:
Instead of a classic chipped event, this low-key race opted for a manual approach. Runners would approach the start, a volunteer would call out our numbers, count us down, and launch us in the order we were ready. While this did mean that sometimes slower runners/walkers were ahead of faster runners based on their arrival to the starting point, the park was spacious and prevented any bunching up. The course itself featured 1 small loop around the start/finish, followed by 2 larger loops around the park. Conditions were VERY ICY and SNOWY. There were numerous patches completed covered in snow and ice that made running difficult. If you are out to blast through this course, I'd recommend spiked shoes! Due to it being a small, COVID-compliant race, there were no aid stations on the course, but they had plenty of water bottles at the finish! The mile signage was a bit confusing at first -- we passed Mile 2 before Mile 1 -- but when we passed a volunteer, he told us that accounted for the loop and we understood. Shoutout to the volunteers cheering us on, notifying us when to turn off the loop for the final stretch, and taking pictures!

Post-Race:
Due to the staggered start, we had a rolling finish as well. As we approached the finish line, volunteers would call our numbers and mark when we crossed the line so our times could be recorded. As for the swag -- this race featured a couple cool elements that I had not experienced at a race before! Instead of giving everyone the same swag, you had a choice between socks, a hoodie, a travel coffee cup, a beanie, or a blanket! I opted for the blanket and was surprised by how large it was! This was in ADDITION to the medal we all received! This race also allowed you to pick between 3 different medal designs -- how awesome! One featured the logo (my pick), another was a more simplistic silver heart, and the third was a photo frame medal!

Tips:
- Prepare for ice! The course has a few small hills, and with the ice on the pavement, it can be dangerous if you aren't prepared! If you're not planning to slow up on ice, wear proper shoes!
- This race is a staggered start due to COVID. If you want to start with the first wave, expect to get there well before the posted start time in case they plan an early release.
- This is a low-key race, so anticipate a good number of walkers and families with small kids out on the track. This race is dog-friendly, by the way!

Final Thoughts:
Loved the laid back atmosphere, COVID-friendly setting, beautiful park route and personalized swag bags! Overall, a wonderful time, despite the ice!

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