Latest reviews by Runaway Wonk

(2014)
"I love this race course, although not as good as 2013"
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Follow my running adventures at http://runawaywonk.blogspot.com/.

Saturday, August 23, 2014, I ran the Lululemon Seawheeze Half Marathon in Vancouver, BC. This is my second Seawheeze and currently ranks as my 2nd favorite Seawheeze.

The expo.

Packet pickup was held all day Friday with no race day packet pickup available. There was a line the entire morning. Last year, I went in the afternoon and walked right in with no wait. The timing chips are pre-assigned, so it takes some time to check in and receive the gear check bag and your chip.

The images on the screen were bizarre, but the music was great and the acrobat yogis were fun to watch.

The only vendors are those sponsoring the race, which includes SPUD (cold pressed juices), Vega (sports nutrition), David's Teas, and some other snack food trucks. All the vendors were providing samples of their products. The big draw is the Showcase Store, which was a complete bust this year. I bought only one item because that is all I could find in my size. It is a shame when people want to spend their money on overpriced yoga clothes, but the overpriced yoga clothing company doesn't want to make enough product to take your money. See a more detailed review of the packet pickup here.

The premiums.

With this race you received a pair of Lululemon run shorts that are mailed to you in early summer (so you can train in them or what they really want is for you to race in them). I selected the tempo run short from the two options presented, the other option being a booty short parading as a run short.

Horizontal pattern. Not a good idea.

During packet pickup, we also received a headband (not sure it will stay put in another's hair), a gear check bag (the cheapest constructed item I have ever seen with a Lululemon logo), a water bottle, and a free coffee voucher to JJ Bean. Kayla commented that the gear check bag, which was a messenger style, was so cheap that the black dye was rubbing onto the white fabric and the Lululemon logo stitched on it probably costs more than the whole bag. Last year's canvas drawstring bag was much better and I still use it. The water bottle is cheap, but I can always use a bottle that can get tossed during a race. This one is perfect for that!

I think these bags may have also been produced for a free giveaway at the Shoe Carnival.

The weather.

Beautiful. The Pacific Northwest summer may be my all time favorite summer. The temperatures were in the 60s when we started at 7am, and only rose to the upper 70s by the time the race was over. The humidity was manageable, meaning there was some, but it was not a swamp.

The start.

It was a crowded one. With more than 9,000 runners trying to self-seed themselves into corrals and many of them first time at this distance, it was a bit of a negotiation. There was four of us in our group. Keri made a bathroom run. Every woman for herself. Caroline decided to shimmer into the 2:30 corral to celebrate her survival of the most aggressive bronchitis. Kayla and I made our way up the crowd. There were people climbing fences to get in. I have to say, I am not that eager to stand in a corral, so we found a open gate and walked through. I seeded around the 2:00 finishers and Kayla pushed forward. The first corral was 1:00-1:45. We all laughed. Who at this race is running a 1:00?! No one. It is little items like this that make you realize this is not a race, but a clothing company hosting a giant fun run that happens to be timed.

The announcers were entertaining. There was music. The announcers interacted with the corrals, doing polls and asking for cheers. After one corral started there was a seven minute break before the next corral would start. I believe there were seven corrals all together. Seven must be a lucky number for Lululemon.

The course.

This is the best part of this timed fun run! The course is amazing. In addition to the beauty of the city, there is a ton of entertainment provided by Lululemon and plenty of support along the course. The course started downtown with a few steep, short hills. There were few spectators and very little entertainment until we reached Lost Creek seawall. From there it was a very entertaining race with drag queens, mermaids, alternative bands (a band wearing tin cans), DJs, and lots of Lululemon employees.

Six water and aid stations were on the course, located about every 3k. A few of them you passed twice as an out and back on Kitsalano Beach. There were well stocked with products from Whistler Water, Vega, and SPUD.

Seawheeze uses Vega, a Canadian company, for its electrolyte drink and gels. I passed on these because I don't enjoy the Vega products. In addition to the gels, there were halved bananas and orange wedges. Delicious!

There were plenty of points along the course to take photos. Not something I normally do, but I also don't normally run along a seawall lined with old growth trees reaching the clouds. Once we hit Kits Beach, there were a ton of spectators and music. The last half of the race is better than the first half. I love this race, just for the course!

The other runners not so much. There is a lot of weaving in this race, but I assume that is because it is a lot of newer runners and the corrals are self-seeded. In addition to the constant traffic around you, everyone is wearing headphones. Well, nearly everyone. This is crazy to me. Seawheeze has so much to experience on the course, it is a shame to miss it. Finally, I just want to point out that in more than 9,000 runners I did not see a single Runsie. The way Lululemon was pushing that thing, I was expecting that to be the uniform because what else would a runner want to wear than a one piece backless shortall. Weird, not one person had that on.

The finish.

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was disappointed. To have a great race and then hit a wall of people is so tough. The race had three different colors of medals. I took the one that was put around my neck, but many other finishers were trading for whatever color they wanted. So important, I know. You wouldn't want your medal clashing with your sweaty race clothes.

The line (but not really a line) for the water was ridiculous. SEE ^ Everyone wanted out of the cattle corral as soon as possible. People smelled. There were no lines, just bodies. It took me about 10 minutes to get a bottle of water. And, I was doing my best East Coaster impression to accomplish that. Throwing elbows and squeezing through. Once I got through the water tent, the crowd moved more easily. I received a bottle of Zico coconut water and some essential oils for muscle relief from Saje.

After making my way through water tent (I would never survive the Apocalypse), I got my next premium - a black Lululemon trucker style hat. These hats were gender specific, but the only difference was the men's had a black and white pattern under the brim and the women's were completely black. But, guess what? Those picky medal traders were all about trading hats, too. Women wanted men's hats. Runners wanted eight hats at once. I saw one woman walk away with four hats stacked up on her arm like she was going to stand outside Nationals Stadium to sell them for $5. Seawheeze, do not give people choices on free items. Please.

Our group convened inside the conventional center since we were all coming in at varying finishing times. Once everybody came together, we ventured over to the line for the post-race brunch. The runner's brunch was fully stocked: mini quiches, waffles, blueberry compote, yogurt cup, bananas, watermelon, cherries, and oranges. You received one quiche about the size of a golf ball, a 4-inch waffle, 3 cherries, a small yogurt cup, and all the other fruit you could eat. This is one of the best post-race set-ups for food for a half marathon. The. Best. Post-Race. Food.

My take.

On Friday, I was so over this year's race. The store selling out early, the crowded drunken sunset yoga, and the cheap gear check bag. But, then I ran the course and all was redeemed. It is a beautiful course, and so well supported. For the $128 registration, you definitely get your money's worth -- shorts, a cheap bag, headband, cheap water bottle, 3 yoga opportunities, a sunset festival with concert, and a great post-race spread. I always remind myself that this race is a runcation, and not an A race. While the course is flat, it is too crowded to really PR. Until next year, Seawheeze!

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(2014)
"Race Review: Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage"
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Follow my running adventures at http://runawaywonk.blogspot.com/.

Friturday, July 18-19, I ran the Ragnar Relay Northwest Passage (NWP) from Blaine to Langley, Washington, with eight other women. I had been looking forward to this Ragnar Relay for a long while, and it was on my race bucket list.

The premiums.

This Ragnar Relay is sponsored by local company, Brooks Running. For the teams that meant a Brooks technical shirt in a bright green. It was nice, and I ended up wearing it on my last leg which is not something I have done before. In addition, we got Clif bars and blocks as well as the captain received a NWP trucker hat.

The weather.

I thought it was perfect, but that can be subjective. Coming from the swamp to 70s and low humidity was amazing. There was a little rain on the overnight legs, but it was a Seattle rain. I don't even think my clothes were wet. As long as I wasn't sweating into a puddle, I didn't mind the sky was a little dreary.

The start.

Bellingham was our starting point. We stayed at a hotel there on Thursday night and Boundary Brewery for our pre-race team dinner. The brew pub had live music and a great casual setting.

The starting line was in Blaine, Washington at the Peace Arch State Park. It is on the US-Canada border. The park was great. Parking with a little tight, but there was the ocean, the border, and lots of green space. Our team started at 9am on Friday with about 20 other teams.

The course.

The course went from north Washington south to Whidbey Island. It was mostly flat, with some hills. I ran four legs of the 36. My first three were flat as pancakes.

The first one (leg 2) being along a highway that skirted the ocean.

The second (leg 4) was through country roads and an easy sight on the mountain range beside me.

The third (leg 16) was my favorite. Despite it being pitch black and straight, there was a bright spot at the end. Exchange 16 was the most amazing exchange I have ever seen at a Ragnar. Leg 16 had a total elevation change of -1 foot, and about 1.5 miles out from the exchange I could see these bright lights. As I got closer, I could hear music. I ran into the exchange chute and my team was no one in sight because they were busy taking in the exchange. It was some type of farmers' market stand with fresh fruit, coffee and hot chocolate, hand dipped ice cream, and hand-woven baskets. It was something to behold! As a consolation, Kayla bought me an ice cream cone. It was the best ice cream cone in the world!

My final leg (leg 28) was a cruel joke. At over eight miles, it was my longest run of the relay and the most difficult. It was flat along the ocean and then there were two hills. Just two. But, they were monsters. The first one rose 300+ feet in less than a mile. The second was 300+ feet elevation gain over two miles. I ran the entire eight miles, but it was very slow. The two hills had nice downhills with them.

The exchanges.

The minor exchanges were well staffed with volunteers and some of them were in great locations (e.g., Exchange 16). Exchange 1 was in the parking lot of a local grocery store that had a sale on fresh berries.

The majors were at local high and middle schools with indoor showers and toilets. While there was food being sold, we didn't get much. We stopped at grocery stores along the way, there were plenty. And, did a couple of sit-down restaurants, including Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen in Bellingham and Christopher's in Coupeville.

The finish.

The finish line was the most disappointing. It was at the Island County Fairgrounds... so not very scenic, especially given the course that we ran. When our team finished around 5pm, most of the activities were over despite teams still finishing. We did not get our pizzas, and you had to pay for the beer. Getting dinner in Langley was a lost cause because of the very limited options, so we ended up driving 45 minutes. Not really what you want to do after running for 30 hours.

My take.

I was so excited to run this Ragnar, but it turned out not to be my favorite. The course was amazing and the weather could not have been better, but the finish line left us deflated.

Here is where I would rank it compared to the other Ragnar Relays I have ran:

Wasatch Back (Utah)
Pennsylvania (RIP)
Northwest Passage (Washington)
Adirondacks (New York)
Washington, DC
Florida Keys

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(2014)
"Great Race for a First Time Half Ironman"
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Follow my running adventures at http://runawaywonk.blogspot.com/.

Sunday I completed my first 70.3 triathlon at the Musselman Triathlon in Geneva, NY. Four other girls did the race with me. We picked it because of its great reviews as well as the 6 hour drive time from the DC area.

The race was located in the Finger Lakes region on New York with the swim taking place in Seneca Lake and the bike between Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. The early bird registration was $185. The race organizers also offered a sprint, fun race, children's race, and aqua bike option.

Packet Pickup.

Packet pickup for the 70.3 distance race was Saturday at William and Hobart Smith Colleges. We went right when the tables opened and didn't have to wait in line at all. There were a couple of local vendors selling race essentials (race snacks, race belts, bottles, etc.) and the race itself was selling previous year race gear.

The safety briefing was the best I have ever attended. The race director, Jeff Henderson, is caring, witty, and charming. He loves the race, the participants, his volunteers, and Geneva. Each year he asks each participant a question during the registration process. I completely forgot. The question is different each year, and this year it was "One word to describe the best version of yourself." I could not remember for the life of me what I put. These were some of the race director's favorites that he shared at the briefing.

Premiums.

In our reusable race bags, we received a cotton blend race shirt (very cute and women specific sizing), a small notebook, a kite (yes, a kite), shampoo and conditioner, a race newspaper, and some electrolyte drink tabs and gus.

Upon finishing the race, volunteers handed me a Musselman water bottle and a recycled bike gear medal. The race was extremely green. Lots of reused and recycled items as well as it was wind and solar powered at the finish line.

The weather.

The swim started out with overcast skies, some decent swells, and a water temperature of 72 degrees. It was low humidity and in the 70s by the time we hit the bikes. However, the weather got worse before it got better with 20 mph winds and rain.

The swim.

The swim was in Seneca Lake for 1.2 miles with a finish in a canal. The water was extremely clean and, for the most part, shallow. Each of the five waves started out on the beach and walked out to waist deep water near two starting buoys. The waves were separated by five minutes. It was one of the least chaotic starts I have had. I credit that to the five minutes between each wave and not having a Clydesdale division.

The weather made the swim not quite a cake walk. I felt like a bobber on the ocean. Up and down. Up and down. I swam freestyle the entire distance and went from buoy to buoy without much swerving. When the swim turned into the canal, I became some disoriented and started swimming in every direction, but straight. The reviews I read were absolutely correct in the current slightly pushing you through the canal to the exit point. We exited the canal at a boat ramp and there were several volunteers there to help me to my feet.

Given the weather and the distance, I was thrilled with my swim time of 51:55. Everyone coming out of the water thought the swim was tough. It wasn't bad enough that I thought about calling it quits, but 36 people did.

The bike.

The bike course was 56 miles through the vineyards and farm lands that exist between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes. It was gentle rolling hills for the first half, and very manageable. There were a couple of technical turns - one going down a steep hill, another going up a steeper hill, and a third down another hill in the rain.

The first 17 miles or so were south into a headwind. That was a really tough way to start the bike, but we eventually turned east and got a break before heading south again into the wind.

The bike support for this race was remarkable. There were five well stocked aid stations with port-a-potties. Slews of volunteers were handing out water, Heed, shot blocks, and gus. They were organized and very encouraging despite standing in the rain for hours. In addition to the aid stations, the race had roving mechanics on bikes to help those with mechanical issues. Jamie had a mechanic stop to help her fix two flats (one was a pinched tube from the first one he fixed). She said he was phenomenal and quick with the change. There were law enforcement officers and volunteers at every single intersection to help control traffic.

My bike time was 3:49, but given the wind and rain. I am okay with that. I expected to come in around 3:30 or less, but I cannot control the weather.

The run.

By the time I got off the bike, I was exhausted. The wind really took a lot out of my legs. But, I hurried through transition and started the run. It went through Geneva and out into the country side. Most of the run was flat with a couple of steep, longer hills in the middle. Like many triathlons I have done, it was a little bit of all terrains - Road, sidewalk, stairs, gravel.

But, much like the bike, it was well organized and supported. There were 11 aid stations with plenty of volunteers. They had bananas, fresh apricots, pretzels (soggy from the rain), animal crackers, salt tablets, gus, Heed, water, and flat Coke. My plan was to walk through the aid stations, which I did to help manage my fueling. The volunteers were super encouraging. One even ran a little with me and chatted after going up a big hill. He had done the aqua bike that morning, then came out to volunteer.

My run time was dismal at 2:48. The slowest I have ever run, but easy to beat next race.

The transition area.

The transition area was well organized and plenty of rooms between the bike racks. We were able to rack our bike the night before, and then set up transition as early as 5am for a 7am start time. There was no need to run very far between the swim and the transition, which was very welcomed.

To help locate your bike, they put country flags for the World Cup teams. I was in the Chile row. It made it super easy to find my row and locate my bike.

The support.

I cannot say enough how amazing the race is supported. It seemed like there were as many volunteers as there were participants in the race. Despite the rainy weather, they were smiling ear-to-ear and looked genuinely excited to be part of the race experience. I cannot think of one thing this race was missing in terms of support.

The finish.

The finish area was very close together. Red Jacket Orchard and Wegman's were two of the sponsors. The fruit - cherries, bananas, apricots, watermelon, juices - provided by Red Jacket were delicious and there was so much. Wegman's had three options for lunch - pork, chicken, and a vegetarian pasta dish. It was a ton of food, and there was also ice cream. We sat at picnic tables after the race, enjoyed our food, and listened to a live band play. It was a great way to wind down.

My take.

I loved this race and the experience! Jeff Henderson and his legion of volunteers put on a fantastic event. If you have not down this race, you should put it on your list.

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(2014)
"Good course, great food, and inexpensive"
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Follow my running adventures at http://runawaywonk.blogspot.com/.

Another weekend, another race. Sunday, May 4, 2014, I ran the Broad Street 10-Miler in Philadelphia for the first time. It is my last running race for the spring and was a great race to finish off the season.

The expo.

The expo was at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Friday and Saturday. I arrived too late Friday night to pick up, so Kayla and I went on Saturday after a mellow yoga class. We arrived around 10:30am and there were not a lot of people, and even better, no lines. The bibs were pre-assigned. I picked up my bib and my upgraded tech shirt (more on that) along with the goodie bag.

We did a quick parameter walk through the vendors. Dunkin Donuts was a sponsor for the race, so there were quite a few DD perks (coupons, coffee samples, DD rewards cards). Martins Rolls had the best freebie. It was a PB&J kit -- 2 slices of bread, individual jelly and peanut butter, a plastic knife, and wet nap in a cute little plastic bag. Overall, the expo was fine, but nothing memorable.

The premiums.

I upgraded from the cotton tshirt to the technical shirt that was gender-specific. Big mistake. Both shirts are ugly. The tech shirt was cheap, fits oddly, AND ugly. I will never do that again. Never. again. The goodie bag was nothing to write home about, so I won't. There was also a virtual goodie bag with discounts that went out through emails blasts earlier in the week.

The medal on the other had... loved it! This year was the 35th anniversary of the run and the medal appropriately had some glitz to celebrate.

The weather.

It was a cool start with the sun out and a light wind. The temperature was around 45 at the start and in the 60s at the finish.

The start.

The start area was at Broad Street and W. Fisher Avenue at 8am. We got to the start by taking the subway. It was free for runners. Very efficient! But, like everything else, crowded.

The corrals were very crowded, but that was to be expected for the biggest 10-miler. I crossed the starting line in 9 minutes, so once the race started it moved quickly.

There appeared to be plenty of port-a-potties and gear check was easy. You walked up to a school bus, the volunteer took your bag, put a sticker on the bag, and gave you a sticker with the bus number and bag number.

The course.

The race course is Broad Street. Just Broad Street. You run down Broad Street, take a right and then a left around City Hall, and then straight down Broad Street. It is nice small rolling hills and you get to see lots of different neighborhoods. The best part was probably standing at the start and seeing City Hall 6 miles away.

The course was crowded. 40,000 runners in 10 miles in a lot of people on the road. The entire Broad Street was closed, but there was still a lot of jostling. I don't know how many times I was bumped, more than I would like. The best was a woman yelling behind me "on your right" about 3 times, then bumping me on my left. She responded, "sorry, I meant left." What the what? If you are not much for a crowded course, then this is not a run for you. I didn't mind it because I was running this race for fun, with no time goals.

The support.

Many, many people out cheering for the race. We ran by Temple, which probably had the best cheering besides the last mile. There were bands playing and lots of drum corps. I don't think there was a block without someone cheering on the sidewalk. It really is the city's race!

Water and Gatorade were available about every two miles on the course along with some port-a-potties. There was no nutrition or food on the course.

The finish.

Like last week, this finish line area was like hitting a wall of people. As soon as I crossed the timing mat, there was an abrupt stop. I shuffled beside a sea of people about 500 feet, then was given my medal.

After picking up the medal, I got 2 bottles of water and my food bag with the Philly pretzel. The food bag was a grocery bag with an orange, banana, Tasty Cakes, some generic Teddy Grahams, and other items. It was great! So much food. I ate my pretzel while navigating the maze of the finish area. There were food vendors (hello again, DD) and lots of people sitting/hanging out. A band was playing. It took about 15 minutes to navigate to the gear check buses. Imagine an outdoor concert, that was the finish area.

We took the subway back to our hotel for free. Great perk!

My take.

Like some of my other runs this spring, I set no expectations. My plan was to run by how I felt. I matched my time for GW Parkway, which I was very happy about. This is a race that should be on everyone's bucket list. It is the largest 10-mile race in the US. For the price and support, it is well worth it. I paid $58 for the registration and that included the fees as well as the $15 upgrade for the tech shirt. My friends and I had a great time! I would definitely do this race again.

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(2014)
"Nike Women's Half Marathon DC - Worth a run!"
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Follow my running adventures at http://runawaywonk.blogspot.com/.

This past weekend was the Nike Women's Half Marathon DC. It was my third Nike Women's event (San Francisco Marathon 2012 and DC Half Marathon 2013). Each time I run a Nike race, it is a more impressive experience than the previous race. Continue reading...

The expo.

I picked up my bib at the Citywide pickup in Fairfax the previous weekend, so no lines and really easy. Nike uses the point-of-pickup bib assignment, so that there is no rifling through boxes of pre-assigned bibs.

Based on my experience last year and this year, I would highly recommend picking up packets early. I did a separate review on the Expotique that you can read here. The whole expo experience showcased what Nike does best, which is advertise their brand. Nike leveraged social media to really capitalize on making the runners participants in the experience. There was a hashtag circulated months ago, #werundc, which was on all the materials - from race shirts to Facebook.

The premiums.

Gender-specific technical race tee, Luna samples, Whole Foods samples, a water bottle, and a Tiffany & Co. necklace were what was included in this year's premiums.

The shirt was a plummy purple and so incredibly cute! I love it! It is sized a little on the small size, but I cannot wait to wear it everywhere. It was true to Nike women's snug fit sizing.

The Tiffany & Co. necklace was a huge improvement from the previous two I have gotten from this race series. It was a circular pendant. One side featured a background pattern and swoosh. The other side was the race name and date.

The weather.

It was a cool start with the sun out and a light wind. The temperature was around 45 at the start and in the 60s at the finish.

The start.

The start area was near Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue. The race reconfigured the layout of the start area this year making it very easy to access bag check and the corrals. You did not have to double back to get drop off your bag.

There were plenty of port-a-potties, so many that I didn't even have to wait in line. Winner, winner.

There is something to be said for standing on Penn Ave facing the Capitol and hearing the National Anthem sang. It was a chilling experience. I was in the third corral and there were thousands of runners behind me.

The course.

The course heads down Penn Ave toward the Capitol and then heads through the 9th Street tunnel. After coming out of the tunnel, the race moves onto the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler race course. It is a great course as you run by the Capitol, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Memorial Bridge, Arlington Cemetery, and the Kennedy Center. The course is relatively flat with the only incline when you go through the 9th Street tunnel twice.

The support.

Lots of things to keep your mind on during the race. There were five pep bands, three DJs, and multiple drum corps (three in the 9th Street tunnel alone). Lots of friends and families on the course cheering, including sororities from the local colleges. Nike also moved a lot of the large displays from the Expotique to the course, such as the We Run lighted sign and the wall signed by participants. Finally, Nike had split mats that would pick up your name and display it on huge screens along with announcers that would call out your name.

Water and Nuun were available about every two miles on the course along with some port-a-potties. There were Clif Shot blocks, oranges, and Luna bars on the course as well.

The finish.

The finish line was like hitting a wall of women. My friend and I crossed the mat, then waited in lines for all the post-race giveaways. Whole Foods handed out the post-race food - chocolate milk, almonds, water, electrolyte drink mix, Luna bar, and granola. But, there was no fruit! I could have used a banana. This canceled out the bonus points for no bathroom lines at the start.

After picking up the food bag, we moved to a line for the Tiffany necklace. This was probably the longest line I stood in during the whole weekend. It took us about 10 minutes to get the necklace.

My friend and I skipped the finisher tent because the line was INSANE. We went in hours later and they had a DJ, stretching area, phone charging station, and some "primping" areas. I have read some other blogs saying they thought this was sexist, but I don't mind it. This is a race about the experience, not just the run. The whole point is to love Nike, motivate women to run, and document it all with a ton of photos. I always bring "Yes to Blueberry" facial cleansing cloths for my post-workout clean up, so it didn't seem out of the ordinary to have a place where I could wipe down. I didn't "primp," and I don't think twice if another runner did before taking more photos.

Once you went through the finisher tent there was the finisher boutique. Where what else, Nike was selling more race gear. It was open on the sides, so you could see the merchandise before getting in the really long line.

There were a lot of areas for photo opportunities, including a finisher wall to pose in front of and men holding trays of blue boxes. See.

My take.

I had no expectations for my run when I lined up for this race, but came very close to a PR (more on that later this week). If you have never done a Nike Women's Series race, you should. It is a different experience and they do go the extra mile to make it memorable. I am not going to lie, I always balk at the race entry fee ($175 this year), but then love the race experience and look forward to my next one.

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