Latest reviews by Ciara Doll

(2019)
"Small Friendly Race with Big Beach Views! "
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This race was my second time running with ABWR -- it's a great organization that is perfect for new runners, those who want to try out a longer distance without big race pressures, or those who are race-obsessed -- this group specializes in frequent, small races with beautiful beach views!

Pre-Run:
I registered for the race online. The best thing about this race (and all ABWR races) is the price. $25! This is a bargain anywhere, but in LA, this is a STEAL! The support staff is really lovely and friendly! Since this race program is very small, there is no expo or major swag like you'd see at larger races. Packet pick-up was on race-day morning. This race took place right along the beach by the pier in Santa Monica. This area can be a bit tight for parking unless you know where to look or if you get to the site early enough. I was able to arrive with enough time to find a close spot to park. (Depending on holidays/day of the week, the parking meters may be free!)

The Race:
When I say these races are small, I mean it. There were about 40-50 runners there across all the distances. The half marathoners were sent off first followed by decreasing distances until we hit 5k. The path is a long out-and-back snaking down the beach sidewalk pathway, hitting all of the Santa Monica highlights -- one of my favorite parts of running this course is seeing the Santa Monica pier early in the morning with hardly any people on it! The path continues past the pier and some beachfront homes before making a U-turn at a bathroom/water fountain station (this is your on-course water stop as there is no table set up by the race organizers). Despite this being a small race, there was a race photographer present to capture photos! The course returns down the original path back to the starting point.

Post-Race:
After receiving our medals, the spirit of ABWR lies in its community -- especially the returning runners. Rather than have a large post-race festival, so many people were hanging around, cheering on others, and celebrating on the beach. There was a DIY post-run aid station with waters, bananas, etc.

Tips:
- Parking can be really stress-free if you give yourself a bit of extra time and are aware in advance if the meters are charging or not.
- Expect some heavy wind on the beach if you aren't used to running right along the coast.
- There isn't a lot of shade on this route, so don't forget your sunscreen and a hat/sunglasses!
- Rather than a mid-course aid station, you will need to rely on the public restrooms/drinking fountains if you need water/bathroom. I'd recommend bringing your own water bottle for the course.
- If you're running a longer distance, the course is simply a slightly longer down-and-back path that you will cover multiple times. If you're not a fan of out-and-back loops, I'd suggest running the 5k or 10k instead.

Final Thoughts:
A Better World Running group is a fun and intimate group that hosts beautiful beachfront races at an unbeatable price!

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(2019)
"Debut Running Universal Event"
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Running Universal is a race series of 5ks (and now 10ks) through the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park and back lot. The race has a relaxed, silly spirit with fun opportunities for character photos, unique sights and a welcoming vibe. If you're a serious runner, this race isn't for you!

Pre-Run:
Registration online was very simple, but if you aren't used to this type of theme park-style run, be prepared to shell out WAY more than you would for a typical 5k. There are various tiers of registration, with the most basic starting at around $75 and including: shirt, medal, pin, drawstring bag, race registration and parking. Higher tiers offer perks such as a VIP post-race breakfast and park tickets. They have a bib pick up at Universal's City Walk the day before, or you can pick up on race morning. I chose to do it the day of and there was no wait -- very easy! Parking is also a breeze thanks to the massive lots adjacent to the park! My only complaint here: they needed more signs directing runners to race day pickup, as it was a bit hidden and I had to ask multiple officials where it was (hint -- unless they change it, they place it in the Jurassic Park-ing structure!)

The Race:
This race had no corrals, so runners and walkers of various speeds were placed into a giant corral that was released in waves. This was a bit frustrating because the waves were released in very small batches, meaning that there was a LOT of time standing around waiting to start. This course is deceivingly easy. The park is built within the mountains, so prepare for lots of hills! The race begins at the park gates, weaving through the upper lot to pass by the Walking Dead and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem attractions before moving into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. After exiting the theme park portion behind Waterworld, you follow a majority of the path that the Studio Tour takes, passing by sets like the Bates Motel, War of the Worlds, and the Grinch. Along the way there were numerous character photo stops featuring Gru, the girls, and multiple minions before you finish in the middle of City Walk. The first half on the upper lot and into the early portion of the tour route is either flat or downhill, however, what goes down has to come back up in this case, because the latter half was an long uphill climb!

Post-Race:
Professional photographers take photos of you along the course that are available for purchase once you finish. If you're like me and don't need/want unflattering photos of you mid-run, the course officials will take character photos of you with your smartphone, so make sure it's charged up! Once you finish, you'll be greeted with a beautiful (and large) medal, bottled water, snacks, and more minion photo ops with you shiny new hardware!

Tips:
- If you're picking up your packet the day of the race, arrive early because you may get lost and don't want to end up rushing to the starting line!
- This race is walker friendly, so don't fear the hills if this is your first 5k, but with that said, prepare for a real workout to climb back up to the finish line!
- Stop and enjoy the views! This race is so much to see characters and get a look at parts of the studio that most people don't get to see! Also, in all honestly you paid a lot of money for this event, so get that bang for your buck and take advantage of everything they offer!
- If you're out to really pound the pavement, get to the corrals early and stay toward the front, otherwise you may get held up with the slower runners/walkers. If you're a slower runner or walker, stay toward the back of the pack to avoid being trampled!
- Some parts of this course are a bit narrow, so always watch out for runners coming up to pass you, or if you're passing someone else.
- If you plan to stop for a photo, make sure you signal that you're stopping and get over to the side of the road safety -- do not stop in the middle of the path or sharply dart to the side. (This is a general courtesy rule to keep in mind for all races!)

Final Thoughts:
Overall this is a fun race that recreates the same theme park energy and silly atmosphere of RunDisney races and provides a rare experience to see behind the scenes of this mega studio! The themes of this race change each time, so it's a perfect opportunity to come back and run here again!

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(2019)
"The Best Race Experience of My Life"
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There aren't enough words to describe how magical the experience was for me. I did the Dopey Challenge and they've made a life-long RunDisney runner out of me! Incredible scenery, wonderful (and frequent!) character photo spots, INSANE medals and excellent swag, so many outstanding volunteers and overall a fun, energetic weekend! Course is really straightforward (good for all types of runners) and the atmosphere is more fun than competitive, so focus on having a good time instead of trying to set a PR. Some parts of the course run along the highway (completely closed off to all traffic, so the resort is all yours!) and there are stretches with a slightly challenging incline, but nothing that the average run-walker can't handle. Race is very friendly for wheelchair athletes and those who need assistance while racing. Disney has over 25 years of experience hosting this race and they run like a well-oiled machine at this point, so expect to be well taken care of during the weekend.

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(2018)
"Love the All-Female Energy!"
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You can't beat the Central Park scenery! Race support was great and the volunteers were really nice! The stage and host area were hard to see and hear, which made the start of the race feel a bit lackluster if you weren't in the first couple corrals. It's NYC, so don't even think about driving. The subway is your best bet and guaranteed to avoid running in to road closures. This year's medal was super cool with transparent shapes and cut outs for a funky twist. Also the tech shirt is high quality! Women supporting women is such a wonderful feeling, which made the energy of this race feel extra special. Highly recommend!

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(2018)
"Snowy Start with Sweet Swag and Post-Race Party! "
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Before running a Hot Chocolate race, I had heard so much hype that I hopped on a bus and came to Philly from NYC for one and I'm glad I did! What a great experience! If you're running for bling, this is a CAN'T MISS EVENT.

Pre-Run:
The start and finish line area were stationed right in front of the famous Rocky steps, and if you've been to that part of the city before, there is a LOT of open green space, but not too much in the way of parking. I was carless, so I took an Uber to the start and gave myself plenty of time to do so since the driver wasn't able to get super close. I had to walk about 5-10 minutes from the nearest drop off to the starting area, which wasn't bad at all, but even with the fairly close proximity, don't cut it too close! There was so much space to spread out, shop the pop-up merch stand, mingle with other runners and stretch out!

The Race:
There were definitely a good number of runners there, and everyone was assigned a corral, but that being said, it didn't feel super packed like you'd expect for larger races. We had a snowy start, which was a fun treat for a winter race! The 15k course started by the museum and had a short loop in front before starting a long down and back along the river. The views were nice and featured waterfront pathways that, for a while, felt like you weren't in the middle of a major city!

Post-Race:
WHAT A POST RACE TREAT! Photo ops galore with a HUGE finishers mug filled with hot chocolate! And of course, Hot Chocolate never disappoints with the bling, and this year not only featured a life-sized giant chocolate bar, but each medal in the series featured a city-specific keychain attachment -- a perfect addition for those who run this race every year, or are running multiples races in the same season. It's not only one of my largest medals to date, but it's still one of my favorites!

Tips:
- If you're traveling in or don't have a ton of time on your hands to go to the expo, it's worth the extra price to have your packet shipped to you! It took a TON of stress off my plate to know I had everything I needed to show up on race day.
- If the forecast calls for snow, take it slow out the gate to avoid slipping and sliding if it sticks! We were fortunate to not have that issue, but you never know with winter runs on the East Coast!

Final Thoughts:
This was my first ever Philly race, and what a great experience! Beautiful views, an amazing post-race festival, and MAJOR BLING! This is a great race if you're warming up or working your way up to half!

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