Latest reviews by Meg

(2018)
"Paris 2018: Almost Déjà Vu"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Considering I've already 'been here, done this', I'll make this brief.

The expo was much improved from my last time in Paris, with significant additions to swag and many many more vendors on site. Instead of receiving our bibs and expo stuff in disposable plastic bags, we got re-usable running backpacks! How cool is that? I wish more races did things like that. Even a simple tote would be great.

THERE IS STILL A SIGNIFICANT LACK OF TOILETS. This really irritated me. Considering the number of people who register for and run Paris has increased since I ran in 2013, you'd think they'd add more porta-potties at the start. Think again. The absolute lack of consideration for women who need to use the toilet is ridiculous. There are urinals all over, but TWO porta-potties per corral. Stupid. And of course, no toilet paper. I was one of the last people to cross the start line in my corral because I was stuck waiting for the toilet. Which was an additional logistical nightmare because the line for the toilets ran parallel to the start line. *face palm*

Race course was the same, lovely, scenic. Really enjoyed having orange slices available at almost every aid station. Also appreciated all the spectators and entertainment groups that came out to support the runners. The drumlines were my favorite, and there were quite a few of them!

Finish area was better than I remember it. I was able to get my bag and camp out (almost like a mini-picnic) while I waited for my husband to cross the finish line. There was water, bagels, oranges, bananas, pretzels...bring your own protein solution for after the race (if you're into that sort of thing) because there isn't anything provided.

**Pro-tip: Don't go to Versailles the day before you run a marathon. Unless you have a personal golf cart to drive around when you're there.

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(2018)
"Stirling Half - with sheep!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I really really enjoyed this race. I love running in Scotland and this was no exception.

High-points of the race: I PR'ed, there were sheep, it was beautiful. And it wasn't crowded.

Low-points of the race: You run past a waste disposal area twice and there was a giant field deeply covered in super fresh manure. My nose was less than pleased.

Expo: No expo, you get your bib through post and you get your shirt and medal once you cross the finish line.

Gear check and toilets: Not too far out of the city, easy to walk to and on the way to the start line. Buses are available to drop your bag and there are a decent amount of porta-potties, though I'd definitely get in that line sooner than later. I stood in line twice, once before dropping my bag off and once after and had to aggressively run to the start to make it on time. I absolutely LOVED how attentive the volunteers/run staff were to toilet paper levels. They were constantly walking around with bags full of TP rolls to make sure that none of the porta-potties ran out of it. If you want a spot in a runner's heart, this might just be the way.

Start line: Super informal. There aren't really official corrals, so if you accidentally get a bib that isn't exactly your pace it's easy to move up (or back) depending.
NOTE: The marathon starts first. And it goes the opposite direction. It starts an hour before the half, but just be wary of what time you start so you don't run a race you weren't training for...

Race course: I really enjoyed this course, especially the last 2/3s. It starts off by Stirling Castle and heads into town. There are bits on cobblestone between miles 1 and 2, and many unwelcome twists and turns between 3 and 4. That was probably the worst part of the course. It was around a stadium and school, so not scenic and zero crowd support. However, after mile 4, it's gorgeous. You head toward the mountains and the view is incredible. The course is relatively flat - slight, slight rolling, but hardly noticeable - AND YOU RUN PAST SHEEP! If you're lucky, they'll be baa-ing you on to victory :) You're out in nature (on a road) until mile 10-something, at which point you head back into town. I loved the mid-section of the race. The air, the sheep, the scenery...so much greatness. The end of the race was misleading and I clocked it as at least .25 miles long (so did many other runners I talked to). Could be due to overlapping the course with the marathon, but not sure.

Aid-stations: There were three, each equipped with mini-bottles of water. I think there were gels at mile 7, but I brought my own so I'm not sure on that.

Finish line/area: Good energy, lots of people and dogs out cheering you to the line. They had finish packs ready and waiting, which included t-shirt, medal, water, sports bar thing, and foil blanket. There were letters up to meet with your family, a live band, and plenty of different food truck/booths. The gear check buses weren't very far from the finish area, which was nice. You could also use the buses to do a quick change into a set of dry clothes if you wanted.

Other bits and bobs:
-There's a tracking app
-The website doesn't have the best start line/finish line maps
-Book accommodation in advance because there isn't a ton in Stirling
-There isn't a running shop in town if you need any last-minute stuff. Closest one is Run4It in Bridge of Allan (bus ride away)
-Pasta/Italian dinner the night before: book ahead of time. We ate at Italia Nostra, which was delicious.
-It's a small race, there were only 6,000 runners total between the full and the half
-I was passed by the winning male marathoner

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(2018)
"Stirling Half - with sheep!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I really really enjoyed this race. I love running in Scotland and this was no exception.

High-points of the race: I PR'ed, there were sheep, it was beautiful. And it wasn't crowded.

Low-points of the race: You run past a waste disposal area twice and there was a giant field deeply covered in super fresh manure. My nose was less than pleased.

Expo: No expo, you get your bib through post and you get your shirt and medal once you cross the finish line.

Gear check and toilets: Not too far out of the city, easy to walk to and on the way to the start line. Buses are available to drop your bag and there are a decent amount of porta-potties, though I'd definitely get in that line sooner than later. I stood in line twice, once before dropping my bag off and once after and had to aggressively run to the start to make it on time. I absolutely LOVED how attentive the volunteers/run staff were to toilet paper levels. They were constantly walking around with bags full of TP rolls to make sure that none of the porta-potties ran out of it. If you want a spot in a runner's heart, this might just be the way.

Start line: Super informal. There aren't really official corrals, so if you accidentally get a bib that isn't exactly your pace it's easy to move up (or back) depending.
NOTE: The marathon starts first. And it goes the opposite direction. It starts an hour before the half, but just be wary of what time you start so you don't run a race you weren't training for...

Race course: I really enjoyed this course, especially the last 2/3s. It starts off by Stirling Castle and heads into town. There are bits on cobblestone between miles 1 and 2, and many unwelcome twists and turns between 3 and 4. That was probably the worst part of the course. It was around a stadium and school, so not scenic and zero crowd support. However, after mile 4, it's gorgeous. You head toward the mountains and the view is incredible. The course is relatively flat - slight, slight rolling, but hardly noticeable - AND YOU RUN PAST SHEEP! If you're lucky, they'll be baa-ing you on to victory :) You're out in nature (on a road) until mile 10-something, at which point you head back into town. I loved the mid-section of the race. The air, the sheep, the scenery...so much greatness. The end of the race was misleading and I clocked it as at least .25 miles long (so did many other runners I talked to). Could be due to overlapping the course with the marathon, but not sure.

Aid-stations: There were three, each equipped with mini-bottles of water. I think there were gels at mile 7, but I brought my own so I'm not sure on that.

Finish line/area: Good energy, lots of people and dogs out cheering you to the line. They had finish packs ready and waiting, which included t-shirt, medal, water, sports bar thing, and foil blanket. There were letters up to meet with your family, a live band, and plenty of different food truck/booths. The gear check buses weren't very far from the finish area, which was nice. You could also use the buses to do a quick change into a set of dry clothes if you wanted.

Other bits and bobs:
-There's a tracking app
-The website doesn't have the best start line/finish line maps
-Book accommodation in advance because there isn't a ton in Stirling
-There isn't a running shop in town if you need any last-minute stuff. Closest one is Run4It in Bridge of Allan (bus ride away)
-Pasta/Italian dinner the night before: book ahead of time. We ate at Italia Nostra, which was delicious.
-It's a small race, there were only 6,000 runners total between the full and the half
-I was passed by the winning male marathoner
-Sadly, there were no bagpipers. I love a good bagpiper after a Scottish race.

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(2017)
"No Haggis to be Found"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Okay, I realize that I've scored this pretty low across the board, but hear me out.

Expo: super small. Don't expect anything beyond the absolute basics. There is bib collection for international runners - literally just your bib - shirts are at the finish line (fair enough) and a shop with some race swag and last minute running needs. The event staff at the expo were really not very knowledgable about the race, which is disappointing considering how many international runners come to participate. My mom had asked the 'help staff' about her spectator bus ticket and they weren't able to give her any info about pick-up location or frequency of shuttles.

Start line: Good to know in advance - there are TWO start lines for this race, your bib tells you which one you go to - though no one really monitored what bibs were in what corrals and start lines... Because the race is point to point, you load your bag onto a clearly labeled truck, which was super easy and quick. But my biggest issue was the absolute lack of porta potties. There were probably, not joking, 50 porta potties for over 4,000 runners at this start line. Yes, there were urinals, but like Abigail Adams said, context aside, 'Remember the ladies!' I stood in line to use the porta pottie, which thankfully still had TP in it by the time I got there, until 5 minutes before the start of the race. I got out, ran to my corral, retied my shoes, and hardly had time to start my watch. Insane. Why don't race organizers realize that runners NEED TOILETS!? We go hand in hand! Especially on race morning!

The course: Really enjoyed the course. Was a mix between a local neighborhood 5k feel and an actual half marathon. It is a bit windy and it rolls. I'm from Chicago. If you tell me a course is flat, I expect pancakes. So if you're USA midwestern, note that this has its minor ups and downs. The view of Arthur's seat is pretty cool, and running along the North Sea in Leith is a nice break from the neighborhoods. The course can get narrow at times, so just be aware if you're dodging in and out between runners.

Side note about the course: the last four miles are an out and back, which seem to go on forever.

Aid stations: ONLY WATER. NO ELECTROLYTES. BE WARNED. There are gels somewhere on the course, I only spotted them once. The day of this race was exceptionally warm and I don't think there were enough aid stations out for the amount of people and the weather conditions, but maybe I'm spoiled having done most of my races in Chicago or at other large international venue things. There definitely needed to be some sort of electrolyte beverage on course that day. Thankfully, there were some spectators out with orange slices (savior!) and Jelly Babies.

Finish line: Well organized, you get your medal, a little box with your shirt, foil blanket, and some Zero tabs in it, as well as a bottle of water and a granola bar. But that's it. No bananas. No lucozade or gatorade. No bagels. So bring your own food. Unless you want to stand in a super long line at one of the tantalizingly yummy smelling food trucks (cash only). Also minimal porta potties...at least that I saw. But there was a school where I believe you could go in and change out of running kit if you needed.

Side note: The event staff were basically useless. My dad passed out after he met up with me and my mom and NO ONE on staff knew where first aid was or how to get a paramedic. Ridiculous and extremely disappointing. Thankfully my husband ran off while we stayed with my dad, and two runner doctors (whoever you are, thank you) helped us in the meantime. He's fine now, just had a bit of dehydration.

Getting back to the city: Gear was in the trucks, which was again, very organized and accessible. The shuttle buses not so much. It was a 20ish minute walk to the park and ride station, where there was a line of 300 people waiting for their buses. It moved relatively quickly, but make sure you pack enough recovery things to sustain you (especially if you are prone to hanger).

Overall, displeased with management's attention to detail and aid stations, and the event staff's absolute lack of knowledge and help when we really needed it. BUT, the course was pretty and I would like to do the full in future. Just wish I would have known about the no electrolytes on course and could have planned nutrition better leading up to the race. Oh well. You live, you learn, you run.

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(2016)
"This race is King of the North"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I was lucky enough to get a bib to this race *literally* the day before it began. And boy was it worth it. Having run Boston and witnessed the immense and overwhelming crowd support along the course, I was not expecting to experience anything like that anytime soon. The Great North Run absolutely delivered.

Getting to the start line from local transport into the city center was really easy - and there were sufficient porta potties (one of my biggest peeves) at the start. Gear was popped onto buses that matched your bib, which was great and also easy to locate. The start was incredible. It was a massive race and the energy was through the roof (sky?).

The race itself was fantastic. Yes, I had to duck and weave a bit because I was in a corral different from my normal pace, but that wasn't too much of an issue and is expected when you're running with thousands of other people. The route was well-marked and aid stations were clear, well-placed, and offered little water bottles, which were exceptionally useful given how unusually sunny and warm it was that day. That being said, there isn't a ton of shade, so if you get a day like the 2016 race, pop on some sunscreen because I managed to get a bit of a burn despite it being September and in Newcastle...

The crowd. I cannot do it justice in this review. It was just like Boston. People were everywhere along the course. It is worth it to run this race for the crowd (and finishing view of the North Sea) alone. Families were out in massive numbers with orange slices, Jelly Babies, water, music, posters, and cheering like crazy. So great and really impressive.

The finish line. In the last stretch on the way to the finish you get to South Shields and you see the sea. What a view. And, I happened to catch a glimpse of Mo on the podium as I got to the finish line, which was pretty great as well.

Really enjoyed this race, highly recommend it. The manageable distance of 13.1 miles with the support expected of a top-notch full marathon makes this an experience for everyone who wants to give running a go.

(In light of how much I liked this race, I entered the lottery for 2017, but didn't get in. And am therefore contemplating running for charity. It is that good and definitely worth it.)

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