Latest reviews by John Niedzwiecki

(2014)
"Fun Little Run at Santa Time"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This race, put on by Bristow Tri and Swim, benefitted USMC Toys for Tots program. While the race was a bargain price to begin with ($25) you could save an extra $5 by bringing a toy. Sure, you'd spend more than that on the toy, but it isn't really about the money, is it? It's about toys for boys and girls who otherwise may not get one. That's something always worth giving towards.

I went with a semi costume for the race. Not as complete as my snowman costume for the Christmas Town Dash 8K the week before, but I went with my Grinch face shirt over some long sleeve Under Armor and some Christmas ProCompression socks.

Parking at the race was a cinch. It was held at the Northern Virginia Community College campus in Manassas. This meant plenty of parking and it was located right of of I-66 which means easy access. I did race day pickup, which was simple, as always at a BRATS event. There was a table set up right near the start / finish line. As it has been with every BRATS race I've done, there was a table with one person that would look up your name, another grabbed your bib and a third your shirt. The swag was limited to the shirt, but it was a nice Santa themed tech shirt. Yes, a technical shirt for a $25 5K. Hard value to beat.

The weather started a little chilly. As the race went on, it warmed up quite a bit, feeling almost spring like at the end. The field was pretty small, just 144 people, which felt especially small compared to the previous BRATS race that had just under 700 total. The course wasn't difficult, some slight hills but they were long and nothing too steep. It was an out and back course near the battlefield and I-66. A portion of it ran past some office buildings and businesses, which was less scenic. The turn around had the battlefield on the one side (nice) and the interstate on the other (less nice). The race was structured similar to the Turkey Trot they ran, where there was "one" water stop, but since it was an out and back, you could hit it twice. In the end, the race went by quickly, which I'll fully attribute to having someone to talk to for the race. I had met another blogger for the first time and ran with them for this race.

While my time didn't seem to keep as fast as I had hoped for pace wise on our tracking (Katie's Garmin and my phone), the official chip time was under my goal (12 min / mile) and another PR for 5K for the second race in a row. Hopefully, I can do the same in the last leg of the holiday 5K series in January. Post race, I grabbed my water bottle, free banana and a granola bar and chowed down quickly. I snapped a Nuun in half to drop into the bottle, because that's just how I roll. Great value to get a technical shirt and more than just a banana and water at the end.

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(2014)
"First Turkey Trot with a Side of PR"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I was excited to run my first turkey trot. I can't really explain why, I just was. The race I picked benefitted a great cause. It was in memory of a police officer who lost his life in the line of duty and benefitted his foundation. Added a little bit of good feeling to Thanksgiving. The race day weather was cool, but not as bad as expected. I wore long sleeves and tights under my shorts, but was not cold standing around pre-race other than my hands. Of course, the starting line was outside of a closed Target, mocking my cold hands with their gloves for sale inside any other day of the week. With that in mind, though, parking was ample and simple. Packet pick up was a breeze race day, just like my previous BRATS race experience. I walked right up to the table, gave them my name. One person checked me off, another grabbed my bib and a third got me my shirt. The swag was limited to just the shirt, but it was a nice short sleeve tech shirt (in a bright orange that I enjoy). I wore it later that day, and it's a good quality tech shirt that I'm happy with.

Both courses were shared, with a simple out and back. For the 5K you just turned around sooner than the 10K racers. The start went in 2 waves, the first was the 10K starting at 8:30 followed by the 5K around 8:40. This leads to the only hiccup of the race. There was one speaker at the start / finish line that was playing music pre-race. This was also used for announcements just before the race, reminding everyone what the pre-race email mentioned (10K first, course highlights, two way traffic). However, with the large number of people, if you weren't up front, you didn't hear it. you didn't even know they were talking. Heck, back where I was before the race, we didn't even know they were doing the national anthem until the rockets were red glaring. Another speaker further down would have went a long way.

The course wasn't too difficult. It featured a slow uphill grade for a decent portion of the first half, but I hadn't even realized it until turning around and realizing how much downhill I was going. I had my run walk intervals going and apparently didn't even notice the uphill journey. I won't argue with that. My phone came in with a just over 12 and a half minute pace (with negative splits!), which I was very happy with accomplishing. After seeing my chip time, I found out I had a sub 12 minute pace, which makes me ecstatic! It actually is my 5K PR. I even could have likely pushed harder. I'll get them next time.

Official time: 37:03.74

After finishing the race, we were given a dog tag with the race logo on. It's not full on bling, but it was pretty cool. This is part of a 3 race "Holiday Series" with a special bling after completing all 3. For the runger, there were bananas, granola bars and protein bars. Not a bad selection for a small 5K.

I really enjoyed this race. The weather wasn't as cold as it could have been. Despite the small speaker issue, overall the race was well set up and run. It was also a great value. I registered at an early bird rate of $25. How many 5Ks give tech shirts as part of their swag? runDisney doesn't even do that as $60 (on the cheap end of the scale for their 5Ks). The race was simple but good.

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(2014)
"Zombies, Obstacles and Mud, Oh My!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Packet Pickup and Course:

Packet Pickup was simple and that day. When I say "packet" I more mean "bib". You simply came in, signed a waiver, walked up to one of 6 windows and got your bib. Nice, easy, simple. The course location was in Bull Run Special Events Center. This is just off of rt 66. While it's near the highway, the first time or two i went there it was pretty confusing. By now this was simple for me to get there as I been there for many things, but for a first timer, it is deceptively tricky. There was plenty of free parking right next to the course. No worries. The course looped back and forth maximizing the space, with one main hill that you hit twice, though the first time was followed with a giant water slide, so well worth it. I've run here before and it works well for a 5K. The only issues with the course were the way in which they did some mud, but I'll cover that in the race portion.

The Race:

The Blood and Guts Run is a zombie themed obstacle course 5K. The zombies were minimal impact. They lined the course sporadically: some lumbering slowly down the path, some coming out of tall grass to scare you, some chasing you from behind to startle you. There were some nicely done zombies, but they had little impact to the race. There were several stations that were zombies squirting you with blood, but the water wasn't even red by the time we got there, and we were one of the middle start corrals, which was disappointing.

Some people costumed up for the race which was nice. There were people as zombies, general Halloween costumes and some zombie slayers. I saw one girl with a corset zombie killer outfit on complete with two play guns strapped to her back that was pretty sweet as well as a little 3 foot tall Captain America. They came in all shapes and sizes. I opted to use this as an option to break out my team shirt from my intramural softball team from college: the Amputated Stumps. It just felt appropriate.

The obstacle course was fun but just challenging enough. It was not (and nor should it be) on par with an obstacle course on the level of say a Spartan Race or Warrior Dash, but I wouldn't expect or want it to be. There was a fairly large number of "up and overs" as I'd call it: small wall, tall plank walls, inclines with ropes, etc. Spread throughout the obstacles were muddy patches. I say it that way for a reason. They didn't feel like enough to be an obstacle or a part of the race like a mud run, but were more than just mud developing from all the runners in that portion of the field. It felt more like someone decided "Hey, let's mix it up. Hose down the straight aways so it gets muddy." I'm not saying that's the way it was carried out, but just how it felt at times. It didn't always seem to server a purpose, nor did it feel like it was thought through to balance the amount of water properly to get good mud as opposed to just muddy and flooded areas.

I ran this race with my namesake John. We had a blast on the course though and I enjoyed the company to chat while we ran. My favorite story has to be the army crawl section. One obstacle was simply titled the army crawl: netting set low to the ground over mud that you were meant to crawl through. One side was all water the other mud. Naturally, most people, including us, chose the mud side. When you got down in it, we'll just say it smelled "country" so we did hands and knees as opposed to down on our chest. We come out the other side and John makes the remark "What, you didn't army crawl? Where's the mud?" Just as he finishes, karma hits. He slips falls straight down on his back. He gets up, does a little slippy slide and back down again, this time on the front. Covered in mud. Oh so funny. I of course didn't dare laugh until I was across the puddle though. He's faster than I am, so really helped push my pace early on. It felt good and I kept pace, but by the end I was gassed and let him finish strong ahead of my slower pace.

Post Race and Swag:

After finishing the race, you were greeted with a nice little medal and your cotton t-shirt for finishing. Pretty nice swag for a small little 5K. As you walked down further, they gave out protein bars. Not one, but one box full. A nice unexpected bonus.

From there, we wanted to hit 2 important things (after hosing off some mud): the food trucks that smelled so good and the beer garden. We had an 11:30 am start time, so it was perfect time to eat. We chose a truck that smelled wonderful: the Urban Bumpkin BBQ. The whole menu looked fantastic. I chose the Alaskan frybread taco, with Asian beef brisket. Oh my goodness did I choose wisely. I had several people telling me after seeing mine they were mad they ordered anything else. I was not disappointed. It was well worth however many points it would cost me, not that I bothered trying to find out how many it would be. From there we took our food to eat in the beer garden, featuring 3 craft brews: a pumpkin beer, an IPA and an amber ale. I can't remember where they were from, but I know at least one (if not all) was local. Nothing like a food truck plate and cold beer to celebrate the race with.

Value:

I got my ticket for free from Party City for giving them a lot of money, so it was great value for me. Nearing the event, they were charing $79, which would be way over priced. There was however a Groupon up until 2 days before for $39, so as long as you did simple searching, it was a pretty good value. The t-shirt was cotton, but nice and the medal was small, but still cool. Pretty good value for the price, especially when you top it off with all the protein bars.

Overall:

I had a really good time on this race. I wish I had been running more recently so I wasn't so gassed at the end, but I enjoyed myself. It was just tough enough without being overbearing. It kept it's fun. The main downside was the odd thing about the mud that I mentioned. I have no problem with it being "an obstacle" of the course but it felt so haphazard that it was hard to enjoy. It felt less of a challenge and more of an hinderance to the rest of the race. I was pleasantly surprised to earn some bling and had a good time. Weather was perfect, and the course route was nice. I enjoyed and would do again.

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(2014)
"Colorful "Fun Run" that could use some improving"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

At the end of the day, I did have a good time. I attribute a lot of that to the company. Looking back, I wasn't overly impressed with the race as a whole. The swag was ok. You got a shirt with a nice design of soft cotton, a wrist band, some stickers and tattoos and an over the shoulder Color Run bag that everything came in. The bag was fairly useful seeming, but I used it for the second time to throw an extra shirt and shoes in for after a recent race and it ripped, so short lived. The lack of any corral instead with one large chute made for a long start. The start area did have more than enough bathrooms and hand washing stations, which was a nice touch. The course was rough: the up and down and the packed grass that I can only imagine would get worse as the day went on. This really took away from the overall grade, and the biggest part that could be easily improved. The party at the end was good, but not really my style. I might recommend it to some people, if it fits their style. The race did have some flaws, none of which can't be fixed, but just wasn't me.

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(2014)
"Great Inaugural Running"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Let's start with some brief notes of the stuff leading up to the race. First, I want to mention pre-race communications. The Ashburn Area Running Club (AARC), who put on the Loudoun Half Marathon and 8K, did an amazing job with communications. There were updates almost weekly updates leading up to the race for about a month an a half which was phenomenal. They were emailed to you and linked to the updates portion of the website. They talked about the course map, preview runs, a look at the shirt design, reminders and inspiration. This doesn't even include any additional small updates and pics from their Facebook page. Best I've seen for any races I've run. Yes, even runDisney didn't give this much contact leading up to their races.

Packet pickup was quick and easy. Walk up, find your bib number, next table get your packet, next table for goody bag and shirt and you're done The shirt was a nice quality tech shirt. Granted, it was a small race, so there wouldn't really be lines expected, but even at that they were set up to be amazingly efficient.

Race morning was good as well. Parking was ample at the school. It was nice being able to drive and park easily at the race site. The meeting area was right next to the stadium, which was opened up for the finish area and included real bathrooms, which was a nice added bonus. When I arrived there was zero line. Closer to start there got to be a short line (even in the men's room). Then it was just walk out the gate to the starting like and away we go.

This was a smaller race, so no corralling. Water stops were well spread out. They also FULL of people cheering, which was very nice. On a course that rolls through Ashburn, there wasn't exactly people lining the streets to cheer. There were people at time, still out as slow poke me came by, which was nice. All the water stations cheered and helped try to pump you up. Many seemed like they were being volunteered by local students, either from the track team or sports teams or other organizations, such as Boy Scouts. It was nice to see them out there. I have to also call out one specific group. Later in the course, way down at the bottom of a long hill there's a water stop. I see noone else ahead of me at this particular point. But I hear cheering. Loud cheering and hollering and clapping. Even though I was way in the distance, they were letting me know they saw me and they were there. There was a group ahead of the station, that I can only assume where cheerleaders, as they cheered a very rhythmic cheer. And they continued to cheer as I went off into the distance the other direction. It really helped mentally.

The weather was beautiful. Even as the sun warmed up, there was a breeze that countered it. As it wore on, I got a little warmer at times, but the breeze was usually not far behind. The course featured some rolling hills, but nothing too steep or difficult. Around mile 9 the course goes onto the W&OD trail. When I was at this point there was no problem. When the race pack was there, it may have been problematic. There are many bike riders who use that nice path in both directions and it isn't very wide to support the large volume of runners for a race. The course would follow the trail all the way to back by the school. While running on the trail, it was really encouraging. Many people, runners and bikers alike, would give me some encouragement as they ran in the opposite direction and saw my bib. I received a lot of "great job", "you're almost there" and "finish strong!" It felt good. The last small chunk of the race was on the track back at the school.

I was greeted immediately with my medal and congrats at the finish line. Even being the 4th from the end, they were still there for me. Heck, there were even 2 people there for medals. After my medal I got the 2nd most important thing: a cold bottle of water. I drank that and waited for the person behind me to cross because I knew they couldn't be too far behind. I clapped and cheered as they crossed, grabbed a 2nd bottle of water and headed for the food, and they still had plenty. I also liked it because it was different than other race, which often sports bananas, other fruit and maybe the occasional bagel. They had fruit cups, rice krispy treats, some cookies. It was a nice touch. Everyone was still there at the finish, caring about the back of the pack. It was a nice way to finish. Later, there were even high quality and FREE pictures from photographers that were out on the course, icing on the cake.

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