Thursday, April 30, 2015

Planned 2016 Runs

This article outlines the runs that I am planning to run for the 2016 Runner year.  As each run completes I will post a retrospective on the race so others can decide if it is something may be interested in trying and I can document for myself if I enjoyed it so I can remember to sign up again, or not, the following year.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cherry Blossom 10 Miler

This was an amazing and beautiful race.  The weather was perfect.  A very cool temp (around 48 degrees) coupled with clear skies and no wind what so ever.  Taking the Metro to the Smithsonian stop worked perfectly and puts you about a quarter of a mile from the starting area.  The sun coming up over DC provided some great shots of the Washington Monument.

Sunrise on Washington Monument -- Shot with iPhone 6

The planning and coordination that went into this event showed through well.  There was plenty of room in the starting area with everything well signed.  Clear areas for elite athletes, medical, pre-race food, portable toilets and bag drop.  There were also post race areas already marked off so you could clearly see where to go to meet friends/family and pick up your medal in the medal tent.

Never seen so many bananas in one place

The race uses coral starts and each coral color was clearly marked with flags along the starting shoot that matched each runners bib color.  There was about 3 to 5 minutes between each wave which helped with the initial crowds.  That being said, when it was my time to start in the second wave, it was clear that each wave was fairly large.  I was in large crowds for just over the first two miles, but really never got in the clear.

This year that was a very unfortunate accident that occurred before the races start and it caused the race official to re-route us and shorten the race to 9.39 miles.  While there was a lot of concern for what had transpired, the race official(s) and staff did an amazing job making the changes to the courses and making announcements to the runners so everyone was informed.

Strava Map of Cherry Blossom 10 Miler

This race attracts a lot of elite athletes based on the course, the prize money, and the fact that the 10 miler is so flat.  With the temperature and the lack of wind, it certainly did provide for an amazing opportunity for these runners going after PRs and/or world records.  Unfortunately the shortening of the course did impact that plans, at least in terms of recognized world record opportunities.

The scenery was simply amazing.  The cherry blossoms were at their peak and sections of the race were literally covered in cherry trees.  The spectators were plentiful and all over the course providing a lot of support and energy to the racers passing them by.  The water/food stops were plentiful as well and very well staffed for the number of runners trying to get by.  In fact, there was even an "unofficial" water/beer/oreo stop around mile 7 on the altered course.

On course with cherry blossoms on course

Once you finished the race, there was water as you exited the runners shoot.  As you worked your way back into the start/finish runners area you could get food, gatorade and hit the now open medal tent.  The medals change each year and seem to play off the shirt design.  The medal's this year were very unique and sizable.

2015 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler Medal

While I didn't have a great race personally, I would love to try this event again next year if I am fortunate enough to get successfully through the lottery process again.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hershey 10K

This run makes two in PA in the same month!  Of course this one is closer than the Hot Chocolate 15K and they do have race day pick-up so no extra trips required!

I have never done a race in Hershey before, and to be honest I wasn't sure what to really expect in terms of the garb, the setup, the size and where we would actually be running.  Based on the map posted on the event website it appeared as though we would get to go through some of the park, and that was good enough for me to sign up.

The race started at 7:30 at the Hershey Stadium, so that meant a departing time for me at 4AM.  This would put me at the Stadium for packet pick-up at 6AM (just when it starts) and then give me plenty of time to hydrate, eat a little something and use the restrooms before the start of the event.

As cars started rolling into the parking lot, it was clear that this was a larger event than I had anticipated.  By the end, there were about 3000 runners, a decent size for this kind of event.  The air was clear and it wasn't extremely cold, but the wind was furious.  Clearly some of the run was going to be a challenge, so was hoping that head on direction was minimal.

Chocolate World

The race starts on the bask side of the Stadium and as I made my way to the starting line it was apparent that most of the racers had already assembled.  There were no pacing signs and certainly no corrals, so right away I knew I was in trouble.  Sure enough as soon as the gun sounded I had to weave around many walkers that were three abreast or more.  Without the signage and structure for the various running levels, many runners were facing the same challenge and it took to the 2K mark before things really opened up and I could get into a steady rhythm.

Strava Route Map

The route was pleasant and wasn't too hilly.  Total elevation gain was about 160 feet with most of that in the first 3.5 miles.  At mile mark 4.2 you do enter the park and spend almost the rest of the race running through the various themed areas of Hershey Park and passed more than half of the rides the park has to offer.

Inside Hershey Park at Mile 4.6

The race finishes inside the stadium where a nice snack is pre-packed along with bottled water and your finishers medal.  The medals are changed each year, and this year featured the signature Hershey ferris wheel.

Hershey 10K Finishers Medal

While I would certainly do this event again, and I do plan on signing up for the Hershey Half Marathon in October, there is room for improvement.  First, the really need signage and directions for getting runners of different abilities lined up more appropriately.  Not only does this make the event more enjoyable for all, but also a lot safer.  In addition, the racing shirts, while nice, had a fairly cheap looking iron on Hershey patch on the front.  Seems like it will crack and peel off after a few washes.  Lastly, while it was nice to get a re-usable insulated lunch bag after the event full of treats, the candy was actually from the Fall, and was stale.  I mean really, I am in Hershey Park for a fundraising event and I get old stale chocolate?  That was a disappointment.

Philly Hot Chocolate 15K

First of all I have to admit that the reason I even signed up for this event was the bling.  A zip up hoodie and an off the hook medal.  The event was over 2.5 hours from house, and there was no race day packet pick-up due to its size so that meant an extra trip up to Philly for the Expo.  Silly, right?

I mentioned the race to some friends/co-workers and before I knew it they had all been bitten by the bling bug too.  Some where coming down from Boston for the event with an overnight stay the Friday before.  The others and I decided to carpool to split the cost and try to keep each other awake since this meant leaving the Frederick, MD area at 3:30AM to make it in time.

As time passed I have to admit that I wanted to bail on the entire event.  Two trips to Philly was no longer appealing and work was a disaster.  Turns out my wife and daughter drove up on Thursday to the expo to pick up everyone's packet (5 in all, which is the limit in fact).  The expo is held at the Philly convention center and isn't in the best part of town.  Plans of hoping to see some sites all fell through due to crowds and so expect for packet pickup the trip was a bust and took all day.

Hot Chocolate Packets

Needless to say, my anxiety now over getting there in time, getting parking and drive time was all I could think about.  I was able to locate a convenient parking lot that allowed you to reserve a spot in advance and so this helped reduce the stress, now just had to worry about obnoxious traffic and getting to the starting area.  Reading up on how this event was cancelled after one time in DC due to traffic and participants not being able to run due to traffic congestion didn't help.

Anyway, race morning came and I was excited for the race as usual.  We met up at 3:30AM just outside Frederick and started the trek to Philly.  Turns out we left early enough that the drive in was flawless and we pulled right into the garage all alone.  As we got our gear together cars started stacking up behind us. By the time we walked away to head to the event area all the bays were full of runners trying to get a parking spot.  That could not have worked out better.

Was only a mile walk to the event starting area (Eakins Oval), and this part of Philly was really nice.  We walked by the Ben Franklin Science museum and several other nice buildings and park areas.  The event was very well run and had great signage.  We had about an hour to wait before things were to get started with the 5K so we walked around, used the porta-potties and tried to stay warm in the wind.  The 5K got under way at 7:15AM and by 8AM it was time for the 15K to start.  Fortunately I was in the first corral so I didn't have to wait longer to get moving and warm up.  The run is relatively flat with a slight down-slop on the wait out, and a slight up-slop on the way back (it is primarily an out and back run with the turn around at just over mile 5.

Strava Map of Run

The view along the run was spectacular.  Most of it is along the water Schuylkill River.  This provided great view of the water, an old water pumping station, and Boathouse Row.  See the college rowers out on the water was inspiring to keep moving since you could hear the rowing counts.

After the race, getting the medal was great.  It is very substantial and looks like an unwrapped chocolate bar with a bite taken out of it (see photo below).  You also get a large plastic cup, with hot chocolate in the middle, with melted chocolate and dipping supplies around the edges (banana, wafer cookies, pretzels, etc.).  While I didn't eat mine I was told it was all very good.

Hot Chocolate 15K Finishers Medal

After all the driving, getting up so early and the worry about logistics, I have to admit that I will most like run this race again in 2016.  In fact, you can register already on their main website.  It was a great event overall, and I highly recommend it.  If your schedule and finances supports the idea, I highly recommend staying the night before and taking advantage of the museums and sights in the immediate area.  I was also told that packet pickup on Friday was a nightmare, while we found Thursday afternoon to be completely dead.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mission 10 Miler

The Mission 10 Miler is an out and back route just south of downtown Frederick, MD.  It is a fund raising event for the Frederick Rescue Mission.  For 2015, there were about 664 runners and the weather was perfect.  Sunny and about 45 degrees.  In 2014 it was actually sleeting heavily with an off and on mix of rain, so the runners were ecstatic.

As in 2014, the race was very well run.  The start and finish is at the Key's stadium in Frederick that offer amble parking and easy access for the runners.  This removes the need for a bad drop off since the runners have easy access to their cars before and after the race.

While the roads are open to traffic there is a lane closed off for the runners and police officers ensure that intersections are safe and the runner have the right of way.  There are plenty of water stops (about every 1.5 miles) and there is a split timing mat at the half way point (the turn around).

There isn't much to look at from a scenery perspective since it is mostly industrial/retail along the route, but there are a few spots that are a little residential/rural for about a mile or two in each direction.  The course is described as "relatively flat", but according to Strava/TomTom the elevation is 346ft which isn't horrible over 10 miles, but not sure it qualifies as "relatively flat" either.  A good deal of that is within the last mile (of course).

Elevation aside, the combination of great weather and my new toy (a TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio) I was able to set new PRs for 1 mile, 5k, 10k, 15k and 10 miles during this race.  However, there must be a lot of really good runners in the area.  I finished 94th overall and 11th in my age group.

I highly recommend this race.  It is very well run, nice finishers medal, great short sleeve tech shirt, and plenty of food and water available before and after the race.  There is actually a lot of crowd support along this route as well which is always great for an adrenaline rush to keep you moving.  I am sure I will do this again for the third year in a row in 2016.