Latest reviews by Logan
Packet pickup was at the North Face store in Georgetown on Thursday and Friday. I went on Thursday right after work because I was just too anxious to wait any longer. I walked in and I was the only person in line. I picked up my bib and my free pair of SmartWool socks and was on my way. The way that the t-shirts work for North Face is a little different than most races. You can pick up a plain, unprinted t-shirt at packet pick-up, but they actually print the shirts at the race. You can pick up your t-shirt and bring it with you to have it printed, or you can just ask them to print it for you and you can pick it up after your race. I opted for the latter so I wouldn’t have to worry about remembering one more thing before the race.
The North Face Endurance Challenge Series spans over two days. The first day (Saturday) are the 50 miler, 50k, marathon and marathon relay races. The second day (Sunday) are the half marathon, 10k, 5k, and kids 1k fun run. Only the 50 mile runners are allowed to park at the start/finish line, so everyone else had to park at the Loudon Tech Center and we took shuttles to the start line. The races were staggered by two hours, with the 50 milers starting at 5am, 50k at 7am and marathon at 9am. Our shuttles started at 5:15 and ended at 6:15. The shuttle process way easy and the ride only took about 15 minutes. This meant that everyone on the shuttle and in the pre-race area were 50kers and their spectators.
I got to the race start much earlier than I had originally planned on, so I had about an hour to kill before the 7am start. I checked my bag, grabbed some water, then found a sunny grassy spot to stretch and warm up. I also hit up the porto potties…which there was absolutely no line for. There were only about 500 people registered for the 50k, so I think that helped keep lines short. Another awesome thing that they had for runners was a complimentary sunscreen and bug spray station. People were definitely taking advantage of that!
Before I knew it, it was time to go! They had us in three waves, starting just one minute after the other. This was to help with the bottle necking that happens on the course. The first mile or two are on a wider bike path and then a wider (bike path width) dirt trail, but after that it heads into single track, which can get really clogged if too many people are reaching it at once.
The first part of the course runs along the Potomac Heritage Trail along the river (and sometimes cutting uphill away from it) for about ~12.5 miles. There are aid stations every 3-6 miles and they were well stocked with water, ice (which became a life saver later in the day when the temperatures started to rise), and all kinds of snacks (chips, pretzels, candy, PB&J, potatoes, salt, GU/ShotBlocs).
After the first section, you pop out in Great Falls, where there is HUGE crowd support (because that's the only easily accessible location along the course). Once in Great Falls, you do a "loop" of the park for about 7 miles, passing another aid station, before returning to the main area at Great Falls where you can see your family/friends again.
After that, you retrace your steps back along the Potomac Heritage Trail back to Algonkian park where the start/finish is.
There was one complaint that I had, which was that the mile 26 aid station was actually at mile 27 and the actual race came up as over 32 miles on my watch, but it is an ultra trail race and measurements cannot always be exact (and GPS doesn't always track perfectly in trees), so it wasn't a deal-breaker for me.
The finish line is a giant blow-up arch that you get to run through and then you get handed a medal (which weren't race specific, which I thought was odd) and a water bottle filled with cold water! As part of your 50k, you also get a food waiver to get some BBQ after the race, but I wasn't hungry, so I didn't use mine. There are also a lot of other vendors and booths set up at the finish line festival, but I was ready to get home and take a nap, so I didn't check those out enough to talk about them. There were giant buckets and tubs filled with ice and water to soak your legs and I think there was also a masseuse doing post-race massages.
All in all, it was my first ultra distance race and I loved it! I had done the North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon the year before and had such a great time, that I knew I had to go back for my first ultra. I'm even heading back for my first 50 miler this year (2014)!
For more detailed information and photos, you can read my full recap here: http://www.mtnsandmiles.com/2013/06/north-face-endurance-challenge-50k-race-report/
Why the random distance? The Marine Corps was founded in 1775 – hence the 17.75k. The distance ends up being 11.03 miles.
I can't say anything about packet pick-up, because my sister picked ours up. I know it was a pain because she had to go all the way out to Quantico to get them. That being said, they did allow you to pick up others' bibs, so that made it a little better.
The race was in Prince William Forrest Park and was a point to point, so there were shuttles both from the parking lot to the start as well as from the finish back to the parking lots.
The race was small is very small for a road race (~2500 participants) and the main perk of the race was early registration for the Marine Corps Marathon in October. In 2013, the race sold out in about 2 hours - in 2014, now that they have started the lottery system for MCM, the race sold out in 9 minutes. But the best perk of this race is it's price point, which is less than $60.
We spent the first 2-3 miles running along the side of a road, which I wasn't a huge fan of. The road was still open to traffic and we were on a shoulder and the side walk. They have changed this for the 2014 race, which runs almost entirely within the park itself. Around mile 3, the course turned onto a gravel road and hit a steep decline and at mile 3.5 you get to the first hill. It starts out steep from miles 4-4.5(ish) and then tapers out to a gradual climb until about mile 6. The hill plateaus a bit before heading into a STEEP downhill at mile 7.5. Someone next to me going down the hill joked “what goes down, must come up” and sure thing, at the bottom of the hill was a STEEP uphill this time. Once you go to what you thought was the top of the hill (it leveled out), you turned a corner and realized you were not done and the hill continued. After that it was some more steep downhills, another short uphill/downhill and then it was an uphill finish. I firmly believe that uphill finishes are mean, but it was after all a Marine Corps race. Fair enough.
There was a total of about 850 elevation gain for the entire course, which isn’t HUGE but the hills that were there were so sharply up and down that they definitely wore on your legs by the end!
When you get to the finish line, there’s no water, no medals, and no capes to keep you warm (at least when I crossed..other people ended up having them but I’m not sure how/where…). You have to walk about a quarter of a mile (and up another small hill, ha) to where the finish line festival is. First you walk through the water/food line – and there were lots of tasty treats, including a fruit and nut mix that I chowed down on – then you can go get your access pass for the MCM. I headed there first since there wasn’t a line. Then I hit up a foam roller station! This has got to be the BEST idea post-race EVER!! There were about 12 foam rollers set up on mats for everyone to use.
After that, we waited in the bus line for a few minutes, and then took the 10 or so minute bus ride back to our cars.
I LOVED this race!! Seriously. I would run it every year (I'm in it for 2014!) even if I didn't want a MCM entry - it's a good race all on it's own. The course was beautiful and the support staff were incredible. I also found that the runners on the course were all incredibly friendly and supportive of one another. There were signs all throughout the course and instead of the usual “you can do it” motivation phrases, they were filled with things I feel like a drill sergeant would yell at you like “Is that all you’ve got”… “You’re NOT even close yet!”…and “Move it, twinkle toes!”
There were service men and women, as well as forest rangers, spread out throughout the course just there to cheer us on in between aid stations. Some of them had music playing (my personal favorite was when they starting blaring “I Feel Good” and I did indeed do a little boogie as I passed), others gave you high fives, but all of them were cheering us on and had huge smiles on their faces. I also noticed in this race more than any other I’ve been in, that the runners were all saying such nice “Thank you’s” to all of the support staff (both for their military service as well as for their help out on the course). I just thought it was a really feel-good race overall!! Even the hills couldn’t damper my spirit!
The one downside of this race that might deter people (who for whatever reason aren't already convinced by the guaranteed entry to MCM), is that there is little to no crowd support other than the volunteers along the course. I'm used to small races, so it didn't both me, but for people who are used to R&R races or the MCM, it's definitely got a different vibe.
You can read my full race report with more details here: http://www.mtnsandmiles.com/2013/03/race-report-marine-corps-17-75k/
The starting line is in the middle of the National Mall and is easily accessible by metro (Smithsonian is probably the closest). There were TONS of people and the bathroom lines were incredibly long. I heard stories of people just going in dark corners near the museums, instead. I also heard that bag drop was a mess and people waited in line FOREVER and missed the start of the race. I didn't check anything, so I didn't have that problem.
It seemed like there were a LOT of turns in the beginning until we set off on the Arlington Memorial Bridge and turned around back onto Rock Creek Parkway. This race was not a hilly course by any means, but the one hill you do have to run up is a killer.
Until we got to the hill, I would say that the course support (in terms of cheering people) was pretty limited. I think the major problem was that not a lot of people live near the Mall or along Rock Creek Parkways until you get to Woodley Park.
The hill, however, ROCKED. The support was incredible. People had awesome signs, were cheering loudly, and lined the hill the ENTIRE way up! I saw a sign that said “make this hill your bitch” and I did just that.
There were lots of people all the way through until Howard University and then it kind of petered off a little bit again. At Howard was also the BEST band of the entire event – the drum line!! It was awesome. Totally pumped me up. They should totally put the drum line at the hill to help motivate you up (I should note that there was NO music on/near the hill…except for people blasting boom boxes, which was greatly appreciated).
Thoughts about the race:
1) There was definitely a lack of cheerers for the first 5-6 miles of the course. The ones who were out there were GREAT, but it was definitely sparse. I’m not sure why they moved the course onto Rock Creek Park, because when you ran up Connecticut, you got a lot more support because it was easily accessible from people’s apartments. This was clear once we got back up onto Calvert St. after the hill because there were a LOT more fans.
2) They could not fill up the water fast enough at the aid stations. The first few tables were totally over run and they were literally filling up cups that racers pulled out of the dixie bags themselves. The tables towards the end seemed to be a little better.
3) Put a band on the hill. Enough said.
4) I was actually really disappointed in the “Rock and Roll” part of this race. I think this race series is really expensive, but there were only a few bands that I really thought pumped me up – for instance, there was an incredibly talented acapella group, but they weren’t really making me want to jam out, if ya know what I mean? There were also not that many bands and I would have loved to have more…or at least speakers playing radio music or something!? I really appreciated it when I would run by groups who were blasting music for us – it helped a ton!
5) The after race food options were AWESOME. I snagged the usually chocolate milk, bananas and bagels, but they also had power bars (protein plus line), the squeezable applesauce/fruit packs, apples, chips, Jamba Juice mini smoothies and even tote bags to throw them all in! I grabbed like 2-4 of everything (yeah, I’m that person…like Ross when he tries to make up all the money he pays at hotels…).
6) After race party – I didn’t stay, so I have no idea what it was like..(sorry!)
Overall, I LOVE running through DC. The people who did show up to support the runners were great and made me laugh and smile throughout the entire race. I would sign up for this race again in a heartbeat, but not because it’s a Rock and Roll race…because it’s a great course that runs through DC.
You can read my full race report, complete with photos, here: http://www.mtnsandmiles.com/2013/03/rock-and-roll-usa-half-marathon-crushed-it/