Latest reviews by John Niedzwiecki

(2014)
"Fun Flat Race"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Course Scenery
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The Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run is a cool race. Registration is held by a lottery system. You have the ability to register a group together for the lottery, so you can all get in together. You all count as 1 person in the lottery, so it doesn't increase your odds. The cost was uniquely done. They offered their own version of the Progressive Name Your Price gun. Registration was a fixed cost and you were able to add on from there. It was their way of keeping it affordable for anyone. You could choose to upgrade to a tech shirt. Then you could choose to add a medal as well as engraving for your finishing time. I opted for both the upgrade and the medal but no engraving. The shirt was nice but the design was a little lackluster to me. The medal, however, was solid with a great design.

The expo was well done. It was located just off the metro stop, so was easy to get to. The packet pickup was quick and well organized. Pickup was divided into a bunch of groups, keeping lines from forming. After getting your bib, you had to go next to the lower level to pick up your shirt. Again, there was no line, nice and easy. After getting my goodies it was time to browse the expo floor. The expo was an ok size. It wasn't huge, but there was a good mix of vendors. I ended up picking up a pair of sunglasses for a great price. During the expo there were various talks going on. I just missed a talk by Greg Meyer, the current American record holder for the 10 Mile. I did however get to meet him and get an autograph.

The race start was on the National Mall near the Washington Monument, so access via the metro was easy again. If you wanted to drive and park though, I'm not sure how easy it would have been. It was an early morning for me to drive to the metro first and take the train all the way in. I wore an old long sleeve shirt to shed at the start line because it was a little cool. The early trains weren't too busy but later may have been a little more crowded. Bag check was easy, which was surprisingly the first time I ever needed to use it. There were plenty of port-o-pots available, so getting a morning break in wasn't hard. There was a warm up going on at the stage as well, but it was way too active of a warm up for me. I still had to run 10 miles people.

The race was a corral start, but there were only 4 or 5 corrals after the elites started. I also met some nice people to chat while I waited in the last corral. It was also interesting to listen to the announcers commenting on the elites as they ran, as this was the 10 mile championships, so an important race to those up front. The course was really nice. The beginning portion had a fair number of spectators. Early the course went across and back on the Arlington Memorial Bridge, and both side were encouraging the other. There were also volunteers down the middle cheering with cow bells and clackers to help push you on. The course wound down under the Kennedy Center before turning back around again. Then we looped the Tidal Basin. Spread through out were a couple of entertainment options, such as a band playing some music and a drum group. After the basin we looped the peninsula with East Potomac Park. it was nice and flat with a good view over the Potomac at Regan National Airport, but it fell like it was going on forever. Also every step further from the monument meant another step going back. Of course, right at the very end to get from the peninsula to the monument was a hill. Being that close to the end it just make you want to yell "Come on!" but it wasn't actually that bad of a hill. Overall the course was flat, with a good number of water stops. There was only once where I really felt like it had been a while but then within a half mile of that we hit another. The course was pretty, but it wasn't the best time for the blossoms themselves. That I assume it simply hit or miss though. The actual Cherry Blossom Festival is so long for that exact reason as well.

After the race was over it was time to get my medal. I had a little trouble knowing where to go. I had to grab someone who already had one to know where to pick it up as there was no volunteers directing. After receiving my medal I went to grab some food but there was none left. I had seen mounds of bananas before the race but none now. And I was in no way the last runner to cross either. There was only a single table of filled paper cups of Gatorade and water. Not even a single volunteer there anymore, but I guess if there was no food there was no need. This was disappointing because I was starving. I did end up winning a $50 gift certificate form the stage where were giving away stuff like t-shirts and hats, so that made up for it. I didn't stick around for the awards, because I had a metro ride to the end of the line ahead of me and I wanted food.

All in all, I had a great time and will definitely be entering myself in the lottery to run again in the future.

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(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)
"Fantastic First Half Marathon with a Touch of Magic"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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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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