Latest reviews by Autumn Nguyen

(2023)
"Hot Chocolate + Incredible Views = Yes, Please!"
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We drove from Sacramento, CA to Emeryville, CA the morning of the race to catch the shuttle to the start line. We left at 4:25 am and made it to the Emeryville Amtrak Station just before 6 am to catch the 6 am shuttle. We parked in the Amtrak parking lot, which cost us $30! We found out after that there's a free parking lot that is just on the other side of the Amtrak station so we will try that next year.

The shuttle ride to the race was smooth. Hot Chocolate race management organized this well because there were plenty of shuttles to hop on to stay warm. The ride to the start line was approximately 1/2 an hour, the perfect time for a pre-race power nap.

Once we were dropped off, we followed clearly marked signs to the race staging area. Because we had been on the road for a few hours at this point, the port-a-potty was our first stop. There were plenty so there wasn't much of a wait.

The Gear Check was easy, but I worried that the volunteers didn't have a system to identify bags at the end.

We made our way around the staging area for photos, including a huge blowup of a chocolate bar with the race logo. This is the best time for photos because there was hardly anyone in line.

Then we followed the crowd to the start line. Made our way to the front of the line for a photo op -- again, perfect timing since people were just making their way to the start. The pre-race music was awesome so we found ourselves dancing while stretching. Lots of good energy here. People were excited and that always makes for a fun race start.

The race started in waves, but it didn't take long for us back of the packers to get going. The race starts on the streets in Golden Gate Park and makes its way down Highway 1 where you run parallel to the Pacific Ocean. The views are incredible! Golden Gate Park greets you with its lush plants and enthusiastic spectators. Once you make it on Highway, the scene changes to beach homes, sand dunes, and the Pacific Ocean. The sun made an appearance (after a few gloomy days of rain and wind) which made for a perfect race day!

You're going downhill at the front end of the race, which means the last couple of miles were uphill! It wasn't steep but it went on for what seemed like forever. I actually enjoyed the challenge and ran most of the way up.

Most of the race photographers were at the end of the course so be ready with those big smiles as you make your way up to the finish!

The medals are gorgeous! This was my first Hot Chocolate race and I'll be sure to come back for more chocolate bar medals!

The post-race treats were sweet and delicious, especially the hot chocolate. I also enjoyed the side of chocolate to dip my favorite snacks into. My friend and I found a bench and just enjoyed all of our post-race goodies.

We made our way to the Giant Marshmallow man blowup for photos before heading to the Shuttle for a ride back to Emeryville. Overall, the Hot Chocolate race was a fun race with spectacular views! I will be back in 2024 and will need to make this a new year tradition!

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(2022)
"Flat, Fast, and Fun"
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My friend and I arrived early Saturday morning for the 10K and stayed for the Half Marathon (on Sunday). We attended the Expo at Sports Basement to pick up our race goodies. The Expo was super organized with stations for bib, long sleeve half-zip, and wine (for half marathoners and marathoners) pickup. There were few vendors throughout the store and plenty of race swag for sale. Sports Basement had sale and extra discount for racers so there was plenty to look at and purchase.

We stayed at a hotel close to the race start so we walked over to the race Sunday morning. We arrived about 45 minutes before the race, checked our gear, and connected with friends. Gear check was amazingly organized with a crew of volunteers so it went smoothly.

The half marathon started promptly at 7:30 AM. The race announcer was energetic and enthusiastic, bringing energy to the morning crowd. We were assigned to Corral D and were set to start 5 minutes after Corrals A-C. The Half Marathon course took us around downtown Santa Rosa, the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, and the Prince Memorial Greenway. The course was flat with the exception of a few underpasses along the Santa Rosa Creek Trail. Cones along the roads clearly marked the race path in the downtown area and mile markers were visible at each mile. Most of the race course was on road and paved path with the exception of 2 miles of gravel (miles 5-7). The half marathoners shared the last 5 miles with the marathoners. I enjoyed seeing the 3-4 hour marathoners finishing the course, looking as fresh as ever.

There was one race photographer along the course and a couple photographers at the finish. The photos were uploaded quickly and we received a link to view and purchase photos a few hours after our finish. We loved that the photo package was $10.99 (for all of your photos along the course). What a deal!

We received a medal at the finish along with water, fruit, and sweet treats! We checked in gear at the start of the race and liked that there was no line at the end to pick up our gear.

The after party was fun with a few food trucks (including shaved ice!) and awesome music! We hung around to enjoy our treats and watch the awards ceremony. Everyone got a beer ticket with the bib, so beer fans were enjoying beers after the race.

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(2022)
"Fast & Easy 10K"
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I live 100 miles (about two hours) from Santa Rosa. My friend left home about 4 AM on Sturday and we arrived at Old Courthouse Square about 6 AM for the 7 AM start (10K). There was ample parking on the streets and nearby mall parking lot.

I could not attend the Expo on Friday to pick up my bib and did not pay to have the bib mailed to me ($21). I emailed the race organization and they got back to me quickly about getting an “emergency bib” at the Info desk on the morning of the race. I actually found a friend to pick up my bib, so I didn’t end up with an “emergency bib”.

The 10K started promptly at 7 AM. The race announcer was lively and brought life to the early morning crowd. The 10K course took us around downtown Santa Rosa to the Santa Rosa Creek Trail and the Prince Memorial Greenway. The course was flat with the exception of a few underpasses along the Santa Rosa Creek Trail. Cones along the roads clearly marked the race path in the downtown area and mile markers were visible at each mile. Most of the race course was on road and paved path; there was about a mile stretch that was on gravel. Overall, the course was easy and my friend and I enjoyed the art along the way.

There was one race photographer along the course and a couple photographers at the finish. The photos were uploaded quickly and we received a link to view and purchase photos a few hours after our finish. We loved that the photo package was $10.99 (for all of your photos along the course). What a deal!

We received a medal at the finish along with water, fruit, and sweet treats! We checked in gear at the start of the race and liked that there was no line at the end to pick up our gear. We are impressed at how organized Gear Check was! Kudos for making this process smooth and easy! Oh, The swag included a long sleeve half zip! It was perfect for after the race since it was a cool morning.

The after party was fun with a few food trucks (including shaved ice!) and awesome music! We hung around to enjoy our treats, hoping to catch the start of the 5K at 9 AM. Everyone got a beer ticket with the bib, so beer fans were enjoying beers before 9 AM.

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(2022)
"The Perfect Beer Lover Run"
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Early morning for my friend and I. We left Sacramento, CA at 5 am and arrived in Sebastopol, CA at 7 am. Parking was not a problem for us since we got there an hour before the start.

We picked up our bibs at the Marketplace Expo on the morning of the race. FYI, there’s a $12 for race day pick up. The Marketplace Expo had about ½ a dozen vendors, including Fleet Feet Sports and AVID coffee. It was small, but intimate. People were super friendly and helpful.

The race started with a Beer Toast and we were off by 8 am. There were plenty of beers and cider in dixie cups for anyone who wanted it for the toast.

The race itself was lovely, mainly because I love running through small towns. Got the feel of a small town charm. We ran by the local high school, some vineyards, local shops, and the green belt. I was surprised at the hills for the first couple of miles, but in retrospect, they weren’t that bad. It warmed up way quicker than I anticipated so the layers came off fairly quickly. Those six miles went by fairly quickly.

Once we finished, we picked up our Beer Festival ticket and headed off to sample local brews. I am not much of a beer drinker, but I did enjoy a few of the local brews. Everyone was super friendly, and were all happy to give you as many samples as you wanted.

The Team Beer Relay was by far my favorite! Six times of two competed for the title of Beer Relay Champion. Each person had to drink two bees and run two laps (0.25 mile/lap). It was a hoot to watch – I was kind of in awe at their ability to hold down the alcohol and run fast!

The women and men beer run took place after the relay. We didn't stay for it because we needed food in our tank at that point.

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(2022)
"All The Feels!"
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The Oakland Running Festival gave me all the feels.

I got to Oakland on Saturday - a day before the race. I went to the Expo to pick up my race packet and did a little shopping. It wasn't crowded -- maybe because of the potential rain -- but it was fun and entertaining.

I ran the half marathon which started at 9 am. Late start to give all the challenge participants (5k and 10K) runners a chance to get back and join the half marathon distance. The race started in waves and as a back of the pack runner, I hung out with the wave 3 group with the 2:30 pacer.

The race started at Snow Park and the first three miles was around Lake Merritt. The pacer was a little fast so I hung back and enjoyed the views of the lake and the surrounding area. The course meandered through Downtown Oakland, then out toward West Oakland, and then back to Downtown Oakland with a finish at Snow Park. I worried about the hills but there weren't any major hills along this course. The elevation gain in some areas was noticeable but it was nothing to worry about.

The course is a fun one! There's so much to see -- especially the amazing art scattered throughout the city. The streets were lined with enthusiastic spectators and I felt their energy and support throughout the entire race. The course entertainment was fun and lively - especially the taiko drums and lion dancers. I am Vietnamese and was so happy to see the "Little Saigon" group out there cheering folks on. There was an incredible flame arch at 6.5 miles that was awesome to run through. It was totally unexpected and oh so awesome!

The aid stations were stocked with plenty of water and Gatorade. Some stops had extra snacks, including bananas, electrolyte tablets, and chips.

At mile 9 (along Broadway), I slowed down a bit because I felt the gradual incline that seemed like it went on forever. Luckily, you turn around shortly after 10 miles and the rest of the course was downhill -- except for the last 0.2 miles where you head uphill to the finish!

What made this race stand out was the sense of community. The Oakland community really came out to support the runners. They brought their energy, enthusiasm, and plenty of noisemakers. Their words of encouragement made me, an out of town runner, feel the love and support of a community I didn't even know. The on-course entertainment was spot on and was so encouraging of all runners. And the race announcer was superb! He pronounced my name correctly and his commentary was on point.

The Oakland Marathon published an online handbook that proved to be extremely helpful! I read it twice to make sure I didn't miss any details and felt prepared for the expo and race morning. I love that the handbook had a section describing spectator suggestions - what to do and what not to say.

I stayed overnight at the Marriott (hotel partner) and it was the perfect location. Website said that parking is $45 but because I was a race participant, I got a discounted rate of $25. Also, the hotel had a complimentary check out of 2 pm for race participants so I was able to return to the hotel to shower before heading home.

The Oakland Marathon had a fun course, awesome swag, and beautiful medals. I look forward to coming back in 2023!

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