Latest reviews by John Niedzwiecki

(2014)
"Great quick course for a GREAT value!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I have to say, my overall opinion with this 5K was really good. The fee was on par or better with other 5Ks in this area, even at the last minute prices of $35. The return on the fee was fantastic. Normally, with a 5K, usually at most you get a screen printed cotton t-shirt. For this race, we got a printed, nice quality tech shirt. If that's not enough, the race also included some bling: a nice, colored metal medal. Even a Disney 5K only lands you a cotton shirt and rubber medal.

Registration was easy through ImAthlete. Parking was pretty good. There was a bottleneck getting into the airfield, as there was just one small gate for all the cars to go through. Once we were parked, it was a little bit of a walk over to the main area for packet pickup and the starting line, but not too bad. Packet pickup was incredibly fast and efficient. One person would get your name and give your number to a second person. They would get your bib and hand it to a third. The third person would find your shirt then hand it to you, a red tech shirt with the race logo on it. They had 3 sets of people operating in this manner, so getting your stuff took no time at all.

The course was fast and flat (as a runway would be), though with a head wind in one direction. The start / finish line had several planes on hand from an air show to add a little to the environment. The 5K course included 1 water stop, about half way through. At the end, there were the obligatory bananas and water but also granola and peanut bars.

The only hiccup in the race was the problem with the results. There were some issue with getting the times exported to print the results and announce age group winners, which included small trophies. As a programmer, I understand you can't always control that fact, and then did their best to try and get them out, but in the end we waited a while for nothing which was a bit of a downer. They did have all the times, which were posted later that night.

As all is said and done, this was a great course, a great value for my money, and I'll definitely be doing it again.

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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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(2014)
"Fantastic First Half Marathon with a Touch of Magic"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was my first half marathon. I will start with preface this review with I am a lover of Disney. This made this an ideal first half marathon for me. Strip away the actual Disney, however, and it was still a well run and organized race experience.

The expo was fantastic. Getting into packet pickup was no trouble. I had my waivers printed and signed ahead of time, but facilities were available to print if needed. They had the bibs for the various races split up to help alleviate any lines. I was there early the first day and had no issues. After getting my bib I had to go to the lower level to pickup my shirts as well as my preordered pins. After picking up my shirts, I realized one was going to be a little small. They had an ability to exchange shirts, you could trade in your shirt for one in another size fi they had available. It was a great added touch I have not seen at any other races. The expo was held in the ESPN Wide World of Sports, so things were split into multiple buildings. After picking up my swag, there was Disney merchandise for sale in that area. This was nice because it was off of the main expo area. Over in the next building was the main event. The expo had a large amount of vendors with a good variety. There were a great amount of samples as well. There was a secondary runDisney area, which was the main portion of the expo that was a little crowded. The rest was pretty good on crowd levels. For the runDisney shoes, they had a separate area that allowed for you to enter for a virtual spot in line, and they would then text and email you when it was your turn. All around, the expo was fantastic.

Race day was an experience. Given the time you were to be in corrals made for a very early call time. We drove in as we stayed off site. Travel in was easy and there was plenty of parking as we were quite early. We wanted to be sure to get a parking spot at EPCOT to avoid having to park at Magic Kingdom and then take the monorail over. Since we had a car, we didn't need bag check. We were able to hit the port-o-pots early before there was too much of a line. They had a DJ playing some music to keep things lively. We were able to get a photo op or two as well with some of the backdrops pre-race. Then came the long walk to the corrals. It wasn't as long as I imagined given what I had read from other people, but it also wasn't right next to the staging area. Once in the corrals, it took a while to get started. Then, once they started, it took a while to even get to our corral. The nice part was that they gave each corral the same level of show, with Donald Duck counting down, fireworks and cheering. That part was very cool. It was still a little dark when we started. The course started just outside EPCOT and worked it’s way towards the Magic Kingdom. Along the way was a large pirate ship with Captain Jack for photo opportunities. The course went through the Ticket and Transportation Center then under the water bridge and past Disney’s Contemporary Resort before entering the Magic Kingdom. For being a Disney fan, this was the best part of the course. You start by running down Main Street U.S.A towards Cinderella Castle. You then cut off to the side through Tomorrowland before running out through the castle from behind to a large crowd of spectators. It was a really cool experience. I actually thing running down Main Street U.S.A. towards Cinderella Castle was actually more magical then running out from in it, though both were quite cool.

The course then turned out through Frontierland and then onto the cast members only roads. This was the most crowded part of the course. Any time you went in and out of a park, there tended to be a bottle neck, due to a physical limitation, usually of an entrance only being so wide. When on the back side of the park, it was a simple two lane road with a slope on either side, so no shoulder. They had to keep one lane open for operations. This made for a limited running space. It was crowded. It was moving still but was pretty crowded. If you were a very fast runner, this section would have slowed you down a bit. This part also felt a little boring. They did have one section of straight away with speakers playing music but there were no characters to see, not much in the way of sights to see, just some trees and a crowded road. After making out of this section, we passed down past Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, by the race way and golf courses. Then it was back to the highways to head to EPCOT.

There were two hard parts of the course, both of which were ramps. The first was the ramp to turn towards EPCOT. The hardest part also wasn’t the hill but the bank of the turn itself. It made it difficult to run or even walk. I ended up needing to walk on the grass that was uneven because it was less difficult than the sloped road. The second was near the end, a fly over that went to the entrance to EPCOT. This wasn’t banked, just a l-o-n-g up and over hill, where you could see the promised land but knew you had more to go. When came down the hill and entered the park. We looped through by the countries up to the front of the park and then out the side to the finish line. Just before the course opened up for the finish, the gospel choir greeted us. I had heard about this before, but it was very cool in person. Then it was just a straight away to the finish. Just before the finish line I have Goofy a high five and then crossed with hands held high.

After the race there were plenty of volunteers with the medals. The medal was high quality; heavy duty with a cool design and a patterned strap that just added to the medal. There was an area where you could get free ice and wrap on as well as some Biofreeze. I had never used it before but my shoulders and back were sore, I think from tensing up. I was tired and undertrained but I finished. I have to say, I love that stuff now. It immediately went to work and helped. Then we went passed tables and tables of water and Poweraid and then down the aisles to get our box of food. This was a good touch because you got a good mix of food without having to worry about being without food as a slow runner. We were exhausted so we grabbed our stuff and hobbled back to the car, skipping the post race festivities for a shower, nap and food (to hit the parks later, of course).

The race on the whole was a great experience. The cost is higher than other half marathons, but you get a premium experience for it. Loving Disney, there were a lot of special parts that I loved. Even not being a Disney person, my running partner greatly enjoyed it. runDisney puts on a great race. There were a lot of runners, so while flat, it’s not a race to run for time. It IS a race to enjoy. I most certainly will be going back again, and taking whoever will go with me.

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