' Adventures with FitNyx: 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

AARD: How strict are cut-off times for races/courses?

Today's question was originally asked by Joan Oliver Emmer (Women Who Run the World), but I chose this one for today because I recently had the same discussion with another runner friend who was curious: "How strict are cutoff times for races?  Why can't I get my medal if I am only a few minutes behind?"

Here's the main deal with cutoff times - they're not usually the race's choice.  Course limits are most often dictated by the venue where the race is being held, which for longer races that have cutoffs usually means a city.  There are lots of permitting points that I'll probably eventually discuss, but the most relevant today is the street closure aspect, and therein lies the basis for the cutoff time on a half or full marathon.  My best example is the Marine Corps Marathon: the famous "Beat the Bridge" cutoff is set at mile 20, which participants MUST reach by 1:15pm.  This is a hard-and-fast limit that is enforced by a line of buses pulling in front of the course.  All participants who miss the cutoffs are put on the buses and taken to the finish line, where they do not get a medal or a time because they didn't finish the race.  The MCM website is very clear about several cutoff points and the pace needed to "stay alive" on the course.

But why 1:15pm?  Why a 14-minute pace?  The 1:15pm time is the latest Washington DC will allow the roads to be closed around the capital.  Obviously, DC is a kinda important city for our country, and even on a Sunday, people need access to the buildings along the National Mall and other points of the course.  The 14-minute-per-mile pace is not some arbitrary "we think you need to be a better runner than this" decision, but rather a calculation of what it will take to make it to the Bridge by 1:15pm.  This cutoff isn't meant to discriminate against slower runners specifically, it's just a city requirement to have the streets cleared at a reasonable time.

Of all the first-marathon advice I received, "don't get on
a bus" was the piece that stuck with me the most!

Boarding buses at the cutoff, however, is NOT the universal solution for races with a time limit.  For other events, that cutoff time is a little more "soft", and most participants will still be able to complete the race and earn their medal.  If the venue/city allows it, a soft cutoff will see slower participants moved to sidewalks or all-purpose trails so the streets can reopen, allowing the participant to continue with their race at their own pace.  The important difference between these two types of cutoffs (hard and soft) is communication prior to the event.  MCM makes it very clear what will happen to anyone not meeting cutoffs, including when and where those sweeps will take place.  Other races plan for sweeps, but don't tell their runners what to expect - at these events, runners are surprised to learn they may not be able to complete their goal.  It is very important as a race director to make sure we're communicating our cutoffs and what to expect at those times, especially if a soft cutoff means fewer aid stations.

In very, very rare occurrences, a race will impose a cutoff time simply to allow the race workers and volunteers to go home.  I've really only seen this done for ultra marathons, if a company doesn't have a big enough crew to keep shifting employees throughout an event that might take some people 24 hours or more.  Some races will keep the course open but may not be able to keep volunteers on the course for the full time and cannot guarantee course support after a certain point; again, communication is key for these instances.

Finding a pacer can help you manage your race splits better
while also giving you an experienced runner's advice along the way!

I keep putting the onus on the race directors to ensure their participants are aware of a cutoff time and what it may mean for their experience - but it's equally important for race participants to do their due diligence in researching an endurance event.  While prepping for my MCM experience, I wrote a post about finding the right marathon for your pace, especially if you're looking to enter a limited field event.  It's just as important for runners to do their research before signing up for an event, and perhaps even more important for potential participants to be honest with themselves about making the cutoffs.  Be prepared for what you might experience at your race, and we'll do our best to craft races that can accommodate as many people as possible!  This whole crazy running business is a team effort, after all!

Have you ever been stymied by a course cutoff?  Have you ever been surprised on race day to find out you're in danger of an unadvertised sweep?  What other questions do you want to Ask a Race Director?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Mission: Redemption

One year.

A lot can happen in one year.  This is a pretty common theme on this blog, really...  If you've been following me for a while you've probably noticed I have a relatively tumultuous life that changes constantly.  I'm never in the same place as I was a year prior.  This time, fortunately, I think I'm in the best place I have been in my life!

But that's not why I'm reflecting on "one year" right now.  True, in the past year I've bought a home, gone through a couple relationships, made a big job change...  But the single moment that matters to me right now happened one year ago today: I ran my first full marathon when I took on the Marine Corps Marathon in DC.  From Mission: Preparedness to Mission: Accomplished, it was one heck of a journey, but by the end of race day, I was pretty sour on the final experience.  You can read more about my MCM story in a series of posts from last year, if you're interested in the full details: Expo / Part 1 / Part 2 / Aftermath

To say I was disappointed with my first marathon would be an understatement.  I was so turned off by that experience that I was heavily leaning towards the "one-and-done" camp.  People who know me best, though, could tell right away that I'd end up doing another marathon, if only to prove I could do better than the first one - and as it turns out, they were right.

As of yesterday, I am officially registered for my SECOND full marathon!

I'll be staying local and running through my hometown this time around, doubling my previous half marathon experiences at the Cleveland Rite-Aid Marathon in May.  Coming back home a few years ago opened doors in my life that I'd never before thought possible.  Cleveland has brought me my dream job, a wonderful home, and some of the best friends I've ever made.  It's about time I applied the magic of the 'Land to my running schedule!

Of course, this registration brings with it new challenges, and new opportunities.  Instead of training during the nicest months of the year, I'll be training during the coldest, nastiest months.  I'll carry with me the lessons I learned from last time, and I'll build to improve upon them.  I have more realistic expectations for my race experience - especially having run the half marathon for the past two years, making me more familiar with the course.  Hometown advantage is great to have on my side, as well.  I can preview the course, take training runs along the route, and of course I'll be able to invite a larger support group since the whole family is right here in town.

Hopefully, Marathon #2 will bring me the redemption I've been craving for the past year.  It's time to start the new mission - wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

RICEing Just Got Easier

Aches and pains are pretty much a guarantee for those of us living an active lifestyle.  While there are plenty of good injury prevention practices, there's just no avoiding the occasional twist, sprain, or general overuse soreness.  Every athlete knows how to treat those minor injuries with the old RICE adage: rest, ice, compression, elevation.  But even if we weren't itching to get back to our movin' and shakin', this on-the-go world makes it difficult to take proper care of those aches and pains.  Who has time to sit still for an 20 minute ice application every few hours throughout the day?  Fortunately, gone are the days of needing a ziplock full of ice cubes to stay perched precariously on your sore knee or ankle.

Disclaimer: I received this product at no cost in exchange for my review; I received
no additional compensation.  As always, all opinions expressed herein are my own.

Paincakes are revolutionizing the RICE treatment for those of us who suffer from sprains or sore muscles but have to keep moving despite the pain.  While resting completely is certainly the best treatment, it simply isn't always feasible to take a day off work just to nurse an irritating minor injury.  For those days, an ice pack that sticks in place and doesn't leak is just about the best possible invention on the planet!

The science of the gel-based reusable ice pack isn't exactly modern marvel, but I've never seen one that is both flexible and self-adhesive until I found Paincakes.  In the past, if I wanted to use one of those gel packs, especially on a busy day, I had to monkey with an ACE bandage for a while trying to find a good combination of flexibility and stability that would allow me to go about my activities for the day.  If you've ever tried this delicate juggling act yourself, you probably remember being frustrated that you couldn't quite find the right level of tension to keep the ice pack where it needed application while still being able to move at all.  Paincakes totally solves this problem by sticking directly to the affected area - and staying PUT for as long as you need.

Paincakes - part of a balanced recovery routine!

I've been using my Paincake for almost a year now, and it sees action almost weekly.  The adhesive is still just as strong as it was on the first use!  In fact, the only signs of the frequence of use mine receives are the slightly peeling edges of the adhesive square.  Since the Paincake sticks so well, it takes a little effort to peel it off, and the repeated pulling is starting to pull the square up at the corners ever so slightly, but I supposed that's to be expected after quite a bit of use.  It certainly hasn't impacted my ability to use the ice pack, so I'm not really worried about it quite yet.  The product only claims to be good for 100 resticks which I hit quite a while ago, so I think I'm doing well!

My Paincake is great for icing the entire ankle area, or one side of the knee, at a time.  I can also target other painful areas, like specific points on my back that need iced down after a tough workout, or the bumps on my forehead when my dog knocks me into a doorframe because she's so excited I'm home (yes, that happens more often than you'd think - she's the best but she's a handful!).  There are also mini Paincakes that pack the same punch but in a smaller size!  Both the regular and mini Paincakes come in a waterproof ziplock pouch so you can tuck them into a suitcase while you travel, allowing you to take relief for aches and pains anywhere you might have access to a freezer.

Obviously last year...  #Windians

Having the ability to ice anytime, anywhere, without having to be careful about my ice pack slipping or falling off helped me get through last year's marathon training with minimal down time.  It's currently helping me ease back into teaching fitness classes on a regular basis.  And in the future...  Who knows what it might help me accomplish?  When I'm able to take better care of my body, anything is possible!  Kinda makes you wanna set a big new goal, eh?  ;)

What helps you take care of your body while balancing a fitness lifestyle and, well, a regular life?  Do you have a favorite RICE routine or product?  What's your next big fitness goal?

Monday, October 16, 2017

AARD: Is race directing a full time job?

Okay, I'm going to take a day to answer the question I hear the absolute most by far when people learn I'm a race director.  "Oh, a race director?  Is that like, part time?  Do you make much money?"  This is one of those jobs that a large portion of the population doesn't even know exists, and it's hard for people to wrap their heads around it - especially since it's a relatively rare position.  Even being in the industry for several years, I still only personally know maybe 20 people who make a full time living doing nothing but race work.  Now to be fair, I know there are many cities across the country and the world that have 20+ race managers/directors each, but that's still a lot fewer RDs than, say, teachers or doctors.  It's uncommon and it's unusual, so I can see why this question comes up so often.

For me, yes, it is a full time position and I make a salary that covers my expenses.  I've made enough in the past to accumulate some decent savings, but took a pay cut to move to another company that better matched my personal vision and goals in the industry.  My bills are always paid on time, I own my own home with a very manageable mortgage, and I have enough left over to do things I enjoy.  Currently, I have room to help my company grow and my compensation will match that growth, which will put me back at a very comfortable living very soon.  It's a great balance of affording a stable life while also working every single day with something I love and about which I am passionate.

My position is a little different than the majority of race directors, though.  I work for a major timing company.  We host 20+ races each year that we own and for which we do all the work, but a large part of our business is contracted out to local organizations who want to put on a race as a fundraiser.  Technically, every person from these groups who spearheads their event is a "race director".  Some may call themselves that, others will just say "oooh, I'm a volunteer and they asked me to be in charge."  The vast majority of the race directors I work with to manage, time, and consult on their races are either paid part-time for their race work, are salaried for a more generalized position that includes planning the organization's race event, or are true volunteers who are donating their time to charity in order to build a great fundraiser.

Honestly, race directing is basically just a form of event planning that focuses solely on running events.  When considered in this manner, the idea of a "full time race director" is a little less unusual than it originally seems!  I'm doing many of the same things a wedding planner or a conference planner might do, I just happen to do it for runners and I'm planning courses and coordinating timing instead of picking a menu or matching color palettes!  It's a very complex job with lots of facets to keep me on my toes and busy 365 days a year, and it's a blessing to have found such a perfect position for my career.  I hope everyone who gets involved in race management has as great of an experience as I've had!

What do YOU want to know about running and races?  I'd love to share my experiences and observations!  Submit your Ask A Race Director questions in the comments below or via email to fitnyx@gmail.com

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Naked Energy - Tried It Tuesday

Anyone who knows me has probably heard me say I don't drink coffee - and anyone who has ever SEEN me, especially when I'm working races, has a hard time believing I'm not chugging it all day!  Usually, energy is no problem for me, as I'm naturally pretty bubbly.  Some days, though, it's a struggle to get moving, stay alert, and keep my momentum going forward.  On those days, I need a little boost, but it can be hard to find products that can provide the extra energy without having more negative side effects than it's worth.  Thankfully, more and more supplement companies are making pre-workout products that are made from natural ingredients to eliminate or mitigate all the awful itching, tingling, and heart pounding I constantly experience when using non-natural pre-workouts.

Disclaimer: I received this product at no cost in exchange for my review.  I did not receive any
additional compensation, and all opinions expressed herein are my own.

Originally, I was all set to write this review based on trying Naked Energy to get my feet moving and my excitement pumping for my return to teaching morning fitness classes.  It seemed like a good enough test, and results were readily apparent starting with my first use.  Not only did the pre-workout get my blood flowing for my classes, it kept me alert and bouncing (literally) for the entire day.  But those were pretty typical days after the classes ended.  I got an opportunity for an even better test of the product last weekend, when my race management company hosted a sold-out marathon at one of Northeast Ohio's beautiful state parks.

My biggest struggle with this new race company has been the distance: it takes an hour for me to drive to the office, even on a low-traffic day.  Headlands Beach state park, where the race was held, is even farther away than the office.  Wake-up time for me was around 2:30am (yes, ugh is correct).  Waking up that early isn't really that bad, but waking up and then driving for an hour and a half in the dark is pretty rough.  I mixed myself a water bottle full of Naked Energy, tossed in some creatine and BCAAs, hopped in the car and started chugging.

Just about to head over to start the race - already 6 hours
in and still feeling bright and peppy!

By the time I got to the park, I was AMPED.  My drive had consisted of some great tunes and the building feeling of "It's TIME!"  I stepped out of the car ready to tackle a long, exhausting day with absolutely zero apprehension.  The kicker to the whole day was that, on top of working setup and tear down for the event, I was also planning to run the half marathon - there's not a lot for timers to do between the start and finish of a marathon besides let the equipment work, so I wanted to get my October half in the books early.  The pre-workout would have to help me get through not only the long day of work, but also the 13.1 miles I'd chosen to throw in the middle of it.  On top of an already tall order, the day started chilly but quickly became very hot when the intense sun reached its zenith in a cloudless sky.  GAME ON.

While many of my coworkers battled through the morning, I was bright eyed, bushy tailed, and beaming all throughout packet pickup and the start of the race.  Since I had stayed at the registration tent until all runners had been helped, I was the last to start the race, but I was feeling great and made up distance quickly.  Finally about two miles in, I connected with a running friend and we chatted for the next 10 miles while we kept our feet shuffling and our spirits up despite the growing heat.  I booked it for the last mile to empty the tank, crossed the finish line, and - went back to work!

Some form of dancing.  Somewhere this counts as a dance.

My job for the next few hours consisted of mingling with runners to get feedback and answer questions, then I moved over to the finish line to hand out finisher medals to the full marathoners as they crossed.  One of our event photographers kept chuckling every time he walked by me and I was dancing; he finally just started snapping pics of me with waaaaay too much energy for post-race, let alone post-race/post-work with more work to go.  I did start feeling the aches in my legs around three hours after I had finished my race, but my energy level stayed true.  After the last finishers crossed, I helped take down our equipment and pack the trucks, then went back to the warehouse to wash out 80+ Gatorade coolers and dozens of grimy tables before driving the hour and a half back home.

When I finally returned to my puppy (who was looked after all afternoon by my boyfriend, thankfully) it was almost 6pm.  That's almost a 16 hour day full of activity, and I was only just starting to feel tired!  Honestly, if there's a better test of an energy supplement, I'd be scared to go through whatever it would be.  I was so elated at the end of the event because everything had gone well and I had made it all day with a huge, genuine smile on my face, thanks to Naked Energy.

Earned that medal thanks to Naked Energy!
Naked Creatine review in the works as well...

The real kicker is that I didn't experience ANY of the typical side effects I've noticed in any other pre-workout I've taken.  At no point did I feel anxious or nervous.  I never got the flashes of warm tingling feelings along my skin either.  I also didn't feel overly intense about anything, either, which I had noticed on a few other energy supplements in the past.  My focus was even-keel, my energy was constantly high, and there were no adverse physical sensations.  That's perfect for what I need from a pre-workout supplement.  I'm so very glad I tried this one despite so many iffy experiences with similar products in the past.  I guess "Naked" is the way to go!

Monday, September 25, 2017

AARD: How do RDs come up with a race's course?

Kristen K from Run Away With Me asks: "I've always wondered how new races come up with the route - especially here in Anchorage, where every race ends on a giant hill."

Kristin, I can't speak to Anchorage, but I definitely have put together some courses with some crazy hills!  Often times, the course is partially (if not fully) dictated by what the local authorities will allow, and if that means running on a hill, that's what we do.  But course creation is also more than just finding the X number of miles that the police or rangers will let us use.  We look very closely at the actual experience of running the course, as well as timing logistics like start/finish areas that are safe and accessible.  Difficulty is usually a byproduct of these other items, though if it's meant to be a challenging race (like the Hill Yeah half marathon my company puts on every year) we will probably go looking for something a little more spicy!

What does "the experience of running the course" mean?  It's all about flow and accommodation.  Where can we fit the expected number of participants without having people run into each other?  What makes sense with traffic patterns and local establishments?  For example, if we're running on a major road, we're far more likely to be allowed to shut down a lane on one side of the road for a mile or two, allowing traffic to continue both ways, than if we tried to cross over the entire road, which would require stopping ALL traffic.  We try to avoid courses that would cross over themselves to avoid runner collisions.  If it's a race with 100 people, we're more likely to use a bike path or park trail than a race with 1000 people that simply won't fit in that space.  Aid station locations are a concern too - they have to be well-placed for runners to receive fuel when appropriate, but should also be accessible for dropping supplies and for volunteers to find.  We want the runners to have the best possible experience, which doesn't always mean "most scenic" or "most convenient" - it means safety, sensibility, and smoothness.

Having a proper starting and finishing area (or areas, if they're separate) is also a major concern.  Since this is where people will congregate before and after the race, and all of our expensive timing equipment and staff will be located, it's important that the start/finish is placed in a location that is safe and ample for the race's needs.  You can't have a big post-race party in an alleyway, and you wouldn't want to pay police to shut down an entire main street for a very small race just to keep the start/finish on the road.  It has to make sense for what you're doing, how many people you're having, and for the neighborhood.  We take into consideration both amount of parking and easy of getting into/out of the parking area, as well.

Once we find a course that works, we stick to it like glue!  In fact, many race timing and management companies will probably have go-to locations with straightforward courses to keep things simple and to avoid stepping on too many law enforcement toes.  Here in Cleveland, for example, we have only a couple of approved downtown courses, so we may reuse the same course for several events.  I've had a few complaints about the route getting "stale", and I get what the runners are saying, but hope they can understand that running in a major city is very limited.  If we want to offer four downtown races a year, we're much more likely to have them all approved with the same minimal-interference course than we are to get four separate courses approved.  I had a similar experience in Chicago as a runner, finding many of the downtown races often went on the same portions of road and relied heavily on the Lakefront Trail.  It's just the way things may have to be done in some areas.

Do you have a favorite course you've run?  What course features do you think of when you consider favorites?  What's important to you to have on a course?  And, as always, what other questions do you have for race directors??

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Quatro Logiq Running Gear - Tried it Tuesday

Now that I run almost exclusively longer distance races, I'm always on the lookout for gear that helps me take all the gels, music, tissues, water, or whatever else I'll need to cover the mileage safely and (hopefully) quickly.  You can tell from all of my race photos that I'm clearly madly in love with my favorite running shorts that I wear to every warm weather half marathon, but they're shorts.  What if I want to bring some gear along on a cooler day?  Until recently, the only option in my wardrobe was to either wear the shorts under a longer pair of leggings (uncomfortable) or to wear a jacket with pockets in which my items would bounce around while I ran.  Well, I think I found a better solution!

Disclaimer: I received these items at no cost in exchange for my review.
As always, all opinions expressed herein are my own.

Quatro Logiq is an Australian company that is solving some of runners' biggest gear problems.  Though their catalog has several items I'm dying to try, I settled on testing out a very simple outfit for starters: a tank top and compression capris.  Doesn't sound flashy, but the big draw was the tank top, which is made with FOUR pockets along the back of the shirt into which I could tuck all my little running add-ons without needing bouncy pockets.  Plus, it's a compression fit, so I could easily wear it underneath a looser long sleeve without discomfort.  I ordered a medium tank top (I normally take small or medium in tops, so I erred up for compression gear), and a pair of large compression capris to go with, since I don't actually own any leg compression gear.

When my items arrived (very quickly despite the overseas shipping!) and I pulled my clothes out of the packaging, I was a little shocked.  The tank looked HUGE, and the capris looked TINY.  I seriously thought I received an XL top and XS bottoms!  Though skeptical, I pulled my gear on and found that my capris fit PERFECTLY despite looking absolutely impossible to squeeze into - I guess that's the joy of compression gear?  The top, on the other hand, was a little too tight even though it had originally looked way too big.  Then I realized the website uses European sizing, not American, and I probably should have ordered a large top.  It was still wearable, so I took the outfit for a test drive.

I'm IN LOVE with these capris.  They're such a great fit and they're probably the most moisture wicking item of clothing I've ever worn.  My first few runs in the QL gear were late summer evenings in slight heat and high humidity, which would normally have me dripping with sweat even in other wicking gear.  Not so in my QL capris, I was dry with no chaffing the whole way!  And even though they appeared so super small at first and I was worried that halfway through the run my waistband would be cutting into me, I never once felt like I was wearing anything smaller than exactly what I needed.  Definitely a major win!

The tank top is highly functional, too, even though I did experience some fit issues from not paying enough attention to the website's sizing.  There are four pockets in the bottom of the back of the shirt, and surprisingly, I had no problem reaching ANY of them to insert or remove items during my run.  All four pockets are the same size, but two of them have their openings stitched a little narrower to keep things like keys and money from popping out easily during the run.  Two of the pockets are full size, and could easily fit my Droid Mini phone while still in its case.  I could put the phone in and pull it out without having to stop running, which is exactly what I was looking for in a pocketed shirt.  I can also tuck gels into the pockets, and I bet you could fit one of those FlipBelt bottles into one too if you wanted to take a small water bottle.  Nothing in the pockets bounced, but I did have some issues with the shirt riding up a bit because of how tight it was.  Again, if you pay attention to the sizing, you probably can avoid this problem.

My gear has gone through a couple washes now, and I am happy to report no shrinkage and no damage to the material with a cold/cold wash cycle and hanging to dry.  I've had other wicking products pill up in the same wash cycle, so I was very pleased to see that these items held their shape, sizing, and quality with no issues.  I'd also like to mention that they sent me my items in a reuseable QL drawstring sack, which is a cute little bonus!

Since ordering this outfit, Quatro Logiq has actually added some NEW gear to their website!  I had my eye on their shoulder sleeves since the beginning (basically a long sleeve shrug that would pair perfectly with the tank top's pockets), but now I'm also interested in several of the sports bra designs they recently released, including one that has another pocket in the racerback straps of the bra.  I'm looking very forward to adding more QL gear to my wardrobe and can't wait to see what else they release in the future!

And of course, you can try it too!  Use promo code logiq15 to take 15% off your order at Quatro Logiq to find YOUR new favorite gear!

What's your gear-carrying solution for when you run or workout?  Have you tried compression gear in the past?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

AARD: What's your biggest fear with an event?

Today's AARD question comes from one of my fellow Sweat Pink ambassadors, Marsha A, who asks: "When do you begin to breathe easy?  It seems every race has that one thing you HOPE goes as planned and then you let out a sigh, either when the race is over or that "thing" (weather, etc) works out like you'd hoped...  What's your biggest fear about/with the event?"

That's a bit of a doozy, Marsha!  But the easy answer to my biggest fear about an event is having a major medical incident occur during the race.  I've had a few races during which a participant was either injured (like being hit by a car) or experienced a serious episode (such as a heart attack) and really, those are my worst fears.  I'm trained in CPR and first aid, and so far I've managed to keep my head in a crisis (even as a participant in a race witnessing a medical incident and taking control), but some day there's going to be something too big for me to handle.  I haven't actually lost a runner to a medical emergency yet, but there's a first time for everything and THAT is what I fear.

But as for beginning to breathe easy...  It's probably when I verify the top finishers.  For just about every race, I manually record the times of the overall winners, to check against my timing equipment to ensure everything is working properly.  Once I know my boxes are reading properly, the weight comes off my shoulders.  I've had every kind of problem you could have at a race: police not showing up (or worse, leaving early), major unannounced construction altering my route, running out of shirts, running out of medals, running out of food, horrible weather, portos tipping over in a storm the night before (grosssssss)...  I can deal with all of that, but if my timing equipment isn't working and the race has more than a hundred people, I'm screwed.  There ARE ways to adapt but I would definitely be panicking more than I have for anything else.

Do YOU have a question for a race director?  Itching to know more about the race planning process?  Looking for some tips or consulting for your own race?  Leave me a message - comments are great and emails work too!  And stay tuned for the next informative Ask A Race Director!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

AARD: How much time is needed to plan a race?

Today's Ask A Race Director question comes from Sharla W. who asks: "How far in advance do you have to start planning for a race?"

As with many of the questions I've been receiving, there is no one right answer to this question; instead, the answer varies depending on a few factors.  Longer distance races (half/full/ultra marathons) take more time than a 5k.  Destination events will need a broader marketing timeline than a little local event.  A full series of races might have an ongoing timeline, constantly requiring work on the next event and relying on routine marketing.  Venue choice might make for a longer permit process, and of course the race's goal number of participants should be considered as well.  But for the sake of information, let's narrow this answer down to two cases.

Hosting a local 5k usually needs about three to six months' worth of planning. It is usually the event permit and any police/ranger support needed for the proposed course that takes the most time, and in some cities the permit process may need to be done up to a year in advance.  Popular venues may also require an early permit, if only to reserve the intended date before another organization's event can secure the location.  Once the permit is in place, the rest of the process can be done in a few months.  Activating registration is simple, but marketing and selling sponsorships should be started at least three months prior to the event date.  Finding volunteers can be done in a pretty quick turnaround if the race supports a large cause or charity, and any swag orders (shirts, medals, etc) usually go in less than a month prior to the race.  Course creation only takes an afternoon, unless there's construction in your path.  Of course, the goals for a local 5k are usually smaller in scope than a national blowout event, so the timeline can be shortened to fit this scope.

They'll see everything!  They'll...
They'll see the big board!

A larger event, such as a destination marathon, requires considerably more time, especially if the race is in its early years.  At least one year of marketing is practically a must, and if the course is going through a major metropolitan area, permitting may need just as much advance notice.  Even for established races, next year's event is usually started immediately after completing the current year's event.  Securing sponsors, reserving the race date at the venue, and promoting the event can be an ongoing process.  Actual race day arrangements are made a month in advance or more, including placing orders for shirts, medals, food, and whatever else is needed for the race.

In the end, the time it takes to plan a race is heavily dependent on the event itself.  You want a larger crowd with a bigger scope, you need to plan for a much longer timeline than if you have a short local race that isn't going to go all-out every time.  Of course, all that said, I've seen races start planning only a month or two in advance and not only draw a large crowd, but pull together a really exciting event/post race, so there are exceptions to every rule!

Have a question you'd love to Ask a Race Director?  Send it over!  I'm happy to answer any and all questions, as well as provide assistance and consulting if you are interested in putting on an event of your own.  Stay tuned for the next installment of AARD, coming next week!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Mill Creek Distance Classic Race Recap

After twelve long months, I have finally completed my goal of a half marathon each month for one full year!  My final race of this journey took me out to Youngstown for the annual Mill Creek Distance Classic, a race known for being incredibly hilly and challenging.  I'd already run a few crazy hilly races, so I figured, why not - let's end this mission with one last tough one!

After waking up waaay too early for another long morning race trip, we arrived at the park to find it chilly but clear and sunny - the perfect weather for a March race.  Though there was snow on the ground around the park, the roads were clear and dry.  I was a little bundled but not overly layered as I've been in the past for spring races.  We were more than an hour from home but I still saw several runners from the Cleveland area and chatted a bit with them before the start.  When we finally set off down the hill, I was feeling pretty good.  That changed abruptly about a mile later, as my insides started twisting for "that time" again.  Why do I always run races when I know I'm going to be suffering??  Fortunately there were well-placed portos and I was able to regroup a bit and get back to running, but I did have a few moments along the course where I was dizzy or sick and had to fight to keep moving.

The brutal hills didn't help, either.  I believe there were something like 22 hills along the course, and since it's largely an out-and-back, you get to go up and down some of them twice!  Suuuuper fun, guys.  Between the terrain and my body's rebellion, I was pretty sure I'd actually end up bombing this race.  But then my GPS chimed in and told me I was moving along pretty quickly.  Apparently some of the trail training I'd been doing through the colder months was keeping me in better shape than I realized.  And although the race was sometimes pretty sparse, there was always another person around when I needed a little oomph or pacing to keep me on point.

By the end of the race I was feeling much better.  Knowing I had already fought for so long helps, and made it easier for me to push up the last couple hills.  When I crossed the finish line in well under 2:30, I was nothing short of amazed!  Without running consistently I assumed the elevation changes and physical distress would have ruined me, but apparently I am even stronger than I realized.  That's a pretty great feeling!  Unfortunately I couldn't get an elated finish line photo with my hard-earned medal right away, though, because the race was OUT of medals.  They told me to wait a little bit and they'd bring more, so we hung out in the pavilion where they had a fireplace and some warm refreshments to keep our blood flowing while I waited.

Once I finally had my medal, it was time to hit the post-race pasta lunch hosted by a local restaurant.  Lunch was just basic pasta and bread but any full meal is a nice little touch after running 13.1 miles.  The place was a little hard to find and looked a little sketchy from the road, but apparently the restaurant is a popular higher-end establishment (and yet I don't recall the name, my bad).  We didn't stay long, just enough to stuff a couple platefuls down our gullets before heading back home, but we enjoyed the food and the whole experience.  The rest of the day was spent in well deserved nap mode!

Mill Creek Distance Classic Breakdown

Organization: While the race on the whole was well organized and a positive experience, I have to take some points away for not having all their finisher medals available at the finish line.  Sounded like someone left a box of them at the office or something, so I had to wait a good half hour after finishing to be able to get my finisher medal.  At least they didn't run out completely!  But the course was well supported with aid stations, which I didn't think I'd need due to the cold, but I just can't pass up an electrolyte at mile 8 with my heavy sweating problem.  Packet pickup was a snap and the post race gathering in the little pavilion was nice, though I probably wouldn't have stayed so long if I didn't have to wait for my medal...

The Course: As promised, the entire route was incredibly hilly.  I honestly can't remember a single stretch of road that was flat for more than maybe a tenth of a mile.  Winding, curvy hills, steep hills, long gentle hills...  If there was an elevation change in that park, we were running on it.  Despite the level of difficulty, though, the park itself was incredibly beautiful.  Early March isn't usually all that green, but enough of the forest was starting to awaken for us to enjoy the beginning of spring blossoming.  Challenging courses are becoming old hat for me (as much as they can) so I rather enjoyed the experience.  Have a much faster than anticipated finish time certainly helped leave a positive impression of the course, I must admit!

The Swag: This was a pretty cheap race, and is definitely one for which the swag speaks to the price.  While the course was well supported with aid stations and police where needed (a factor of the race value that is often overlooked), the race shirt is probably one of the most bland I've ever received and will probably end up in a donation bin before long.  It's a tech material but it's not high quality and the sizing was way off, so it's much too big for me to wear.  The finisher medal is also one of the most bland in my collection, but is at least fully customized to reflect the name of the race and the highlight bridge we crossed, so that's a kind of cool feature.  I'm certainly not complaining about the quality - if I recall correctly I paid maybe $35 for a half marathon?  The fact that I got ANYthing is pretty cool at that price, but I wanted to note my observations for anyone who might not have a million race shirts yet or loves flashy bling.

The Bottom Line: Actually, a great race!  Perfect if you're looking for a challenge, easy on the budget, small enough to let you do your "thang" while still having enough participants to warrant good support and attention to detail...  I wish Youngstown could be a little bit closer, but even with the drive, you can't beat this race for the price.  There's a good chance I'll be running Mill Creek again in the future!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Olde Girdled Grit Trail Half Race Recap

With only two months left to complete my goal of one half marathon each month for a year, February gave me an opportunity to shake things up a little bit.  Instead of a road race, I attempted my very first trail half marathon by taking on the Olde Girdled Grit course out in Concord, Ohio.

Lake Health Running Series' Olde Girdled Grit is actually an ultramarathon, full marathon, and half marathon.  Full marathoners complete the half course twice, while 50k ultramarathoners complete the full's two laps PLUS an extra section of trail for the extra distance.  I'm definitely not ready for anything more than a half right now, so I stuck to the single loop!  With the early morning chill and snowfall, I was definitely not looking forward to a few hours out in the woods.  The parks along the course, though, were absolutely beautiful under the light dusting of snow, and temperatures warmed rather quickly, making for a surprisingly pleasant winter run.

I won't pretend like I didn't struggle a bit with the steep hills and crazy woodland stairs - but then again, those are the PERKS of trail running, right?  Fighting my way up was a challenge, and the solitude I encountered along some sections of the trail made me wonder if I was even ON the course at a few points, but I persevered.  My favorite obstacle had to be the swaying bridge we crossed twice during the race!  Finding my footing on the icy ground had been hard enough, but putting me on frozen, swaying planks was just the cherry on top of an exciting winter trail run.  Gotta admit, I was pretty thankful for the wire mesh along the bridge, just in case...

By the last couple miles, though, I was feeling pretty spent.  My phone got too cold and died around mile 8, so I had no idea what my time was looking like, nor where I was in the course.  I assumed I only had a mile left, since the route I'd seen was largely out-and-back, and I was on the stretch of paved road on which the race had started, but then the arrows had me bypassing the turn back towards the starting line and I realized there was more left then I had thought.  I struggled with the mental game and worried that I wouldn't make it, but my friend who was also running (and had finished WAY ahead of me, as usual) came back out to run me back in, and that gave me the burst I needed to surge on to the finish!

I crossed the finish line in an unexpectedly good time for a trial half.  Considering the terrain and weather, my initial dismay at the clock display was quickly turned into a smile and point of pride - I'd actually run the trail half faster than I'd completed some road courses in the past!  And to add to my post race happiness, there was a veritable smorgasboard of snacks available: peanut M&Ms, Swedish fish, fruit snacks, trail mix, Nutty Buddys, energy gels...  Plus there was hot soup inside the pavilion!  I filled a couple cups with munchies, but actually went pretty easy on the snacking because we had Waffle House plans afterwards.  A well-earned breakfast after a great first trail half experience, the perfect way to end an exciting morning!

Olde Girdled Grit Trail Half Marathon Breakdown

Organization: This is the third GCXC race I've tried, and it's the third time I've been impressed.  Previously, I've run their Hill Yeah! Half Marathon and the Rock Hall Half Marathon, each of which had a very different atmosphere.  The Olde Girdled Grit race was yet another facet of this company, which seems to have a solid grip on how to offer great running experiences to ANY type of runner.  Some of my friends handled the quick and easy packet pickup on race morning (it was too far away for me to get to early pickup at the local shoe store), the person starting the race was very clear on instructions for the three different course options, aid stations were well placed and manned by friendly cheerers (even though the cold made the water stops a little less necessary), and the finish area was laid out nicely (ie, excellent food access hehe).  There's nothing really to complain about other than the difficulty of the course, and I knew what I was getting myself into anyway!

The Course: Speaking of course difficulty, I've got to admit that I enjoyed the challenges I faced.  For a trail run, it was about as well marked as it could be, though I did have one or two moments at which I wondered if I'd missed a turn.  This was more likely due to the low number of participants (trail runs are limited to preserve the parks) spread out over considerable distance, and not due to poor marking.  Any time you're alone in the middle of the bleak winter woods, you're likely to wonder if you're lost!  The swaying bridge could have caused a problem for some people, since it's single file and is crossed in each direction...  If you're a lead runner trying to come back across, you could be held up by a slower runner who is crossing to head out to the course, or get stuck behind someone who is taking the bridge more cautiously than you might.  I don't believe I hit any particular congestion at this point, but I could definitely understand if someone expressed frustration with it.  Then again, it's a trail race, and single track isn't uncommon!

The Swag: I signed up for this race pretty late, and paid the highest price point at $75 for the half.  Having never run a trail half before, I didn't have much to compare the pricing to, but I do know this organization contributes to the local Metroparks AND to the Lake Health hospitals out of the proceeds, so while I bristled at the high cost I also shrugged some of it off as charity.  Earlier registration rates were much lower, so let's be honest - I did it to myself by waiting for the last minute.  In exchange for my fee, I got a fantastic trail course, all that delicious post race snackage, an awesome finisher medal (it's one of the heaviest I've received, too), and instead of a race shirt, I got a race backpack!  When you've been running for a while, you tend to accumulate waaaaay too many race shirts, and even the nicer tech shirts get old after so many.  It was refreshing to receive a different kind of race swag, and since it's a $40 retail priced Asics bag, I felt even less concerned about the steeper cost of the race.  Overall, I think I got a pretty good value out of this race, though I definitely wish I'd entered at a lower price point.

The Bottom Line: I don't think I could have asked for a better experience for my first trail half!  Originally I thought the February-ness of it would be miserable, but we lucked out and got the pretty side of Ohio's snow-kissed winter without having to suffer the bitter cold that usually accompanies those flurries.  My body faced some new obstacles but overcame them all, and I walked away with some cool new stuff.  Not sure I'd do it again because of winter's unpredictability, but I would definitely recommend this race to other runners, especially trail addicts!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Introducing: Ask A Race Director!

A long time ago, I wanted to start a series here to help answer questions I get frequently from the running community.  Entitled "Ask A Race Director", this series would be a way to help inform runners and racers, especially when it comes to some of the policies that leave participants scratching their heads - or worse, walking away angry.  Finally, it is time to start that series!

Welcome to Ask A Race Director, Volume 1!

My first question comes from Sharla W, who asked a great kickoff query: how did I first get into race directing?  Well, this answer is pretty closely tied in with my personal journey over the past decade or so.  I'll try to keep the backstory brief, if possible, including glossing over 20+ years as an athlete who hated running ("my sport is your sport's punishment" mentality) and years of study towards archaeology/art history that ended up useless, prompting a need to find a new career goal.  Those two items inform the story but aren't focal points.

My first job in the racing industry.

The heart of the story begins when I moved to Chicago after failing to find my calling in Columbus after grad school.  I took a job as an office manager for a research group, and found myself in charge of event planning as part of the many facets of the work.  Despite little experience and no training, I was able to quickly learn some of the tools and tricks of the trade.  Before long I was putting together events and conferences with great success.  When it came time to move on from that position, I started looking for another job that would allow me to keep planning events, including an actual event planning position.  I went through a few more office management type jobs, all the while continuing to build experience in different forms of event planning but constantly unsure if I was really in the "right" line of work.

During this time, my running hobby started to take off.  I was learning that competing against myself was the best way to carry on my athletic spirit, and dove deeper and deeper into the endurance sport world.  As I struggled with other aspects of my life, I found the running community to be the closest feel I had to "home" at the time, and wanted to be a bigger part of it.  Volunteering led to a couple part time paid race work opportunities.  The more I did, the more I loved it.  It became clear that I had found my calling.  When I moved back to my family home in Cleveland, the opportunity to become a full time race manager presented itself.

Not race directing, but the same happy dance I do after orchestrating
a successful event.  I WILL be directing this race NEXT year!

Call it kismet, call it dedication, call it whatever you like - I took to that job like a fish to water.  Spending every day putting together events can be challenging, exciting, hectic, and even boring sometimes, but when you go home saying "I love my job" even after your worst days, you're where you belong.  Event days are just the icing on the cake for me, though I must admit seeing events take shape and watching runners (friends and strangers alike) accomplishing goals, becoming healthier, making new connections, and having a blast is probably the BEST part of the job!

So that's my story, in a nutshell...  It was the right confluence of passions and joys, mixed with good timing and a lot of personal drive, that got me into the position I've enjoyed for the past few years.  I'm so thrilled to have the opportunity to change lives every day, to raise money for charities doing good work, and to have fun while I do it!  There's no better job in the world than being a race director!

My favorite customer ;)

Do YOU have a question to Ask A Race Director?  Want an explanation of a weird rule or procedure?  Curious about the inner workings of the racing industry?  Let me answer for you!  Leave a comment, shoot me an email, message me on social media, whatever works for you works for me.  And, tell me about YOUR dream job, too!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Brokeman's Winter Warmup 2017 Race Recap

(I ran this race seven months ago.  As I'm catching up on everything I missed on the blog, I'm going back to address as many of my 2017 races as possible - but I can't promise this is the most accurate recap as I did not write it while the experience was fresh in my mind!  I also apologize for the brevity compared to my usual recaps.)

I considered giving up on my goal of running a half every month for a year before running my January half.  A mix of frustration, sadness, sickness, and winter weather blues had me almost convinced that it was time to throw in the towel.  But then I realized it's only three more months, and I didn't spend all the time, energy, and (let's be honest) money on nine months of running only to quit in the fourth quarter.  So I signed up for the Brokeman's series Winter Warmup in Columbus and bugged a close runner friend of mine to join me, and we took the trip down to my old neighborhood to tackle another course.

We stayed overnight in a cheap hotel so we could sleep in on race morning, and were a little surprised to find ourselves less than a mile from the starting line!  By far one of the easiest race mornings I've ever had, complete with Tim Horton's and some excellent pump up jams in the car while we waited for the starting time.  The course was all within a metro park which made for a very pretty run, especially passing some of the park's water features and going under or over some very cool bridges.  Unfortunately the iciness of the cold morning (which thankfully stayed dry, despite super low temps) made some of those bridges dangerous, but otherwise it was an easy course.  I wasn't expected to run as much as I did, and was very proud to find myself at the 10k mark in almost record time!  But then the lack of training settled in and the second half of the race was a little more stop-and-go, bringing me to the finish in about average time.

The most notable thing I remember about the experience of the run was the "cup-free" course, which was thankfully explained in detail on the Brokeman's website so I knew to run with my own bottles.  Water stops only had big jugs of water and Gatorade for people to refill their personal bottles; no cups or other trash items were used.  While this policy is very green and good for the park, I honestly don't think I would ever emulate it in one of the races I manage, for a few reasons.  From the runner's perspective, running 13 miles with a water bottle isn't natural for everyone.  Many runners prefer to race unencumbered; this type of police messes with their typical race MO.  It can be a difficult adjustment.  Even though some people would say "but it's just water and they can still drink on their own schedule" - try getting a set-in-their-ways runner to change any aspect of their race routine and see how it goes!  On the other side of the policy, the literless aspect, I don't really think that's a major problem in most races.  Volunteers who hand out water also do an exceptional job of cleaning up afterwards at just about every race I've ever run, worked, or spectated.  I think I, personally, will continue to arrange races with the convenience of disposable cups on the course.  What do you think?

Brokeman's Winter Warmup Half Marathon Breakdown

Organization: For a small company they were pretty well organized.  We walked right up to the table for packet pickup, there were plenty of volunteers who were very cheery and vocal, and communication was pretty solid!  Brokeman's Running Company puts on a handful of cost-efficient races across Ohio, most of which are full marathons, so they're no strangers to races.  I'm pretty sure they do their own timing too, making them a pretty self-sufficient company.  This race offered a few different distances so runners of all abilities could participate, and interestingly, each bib was marked with not only the distance but a map of the race course, printed up-side down for runners to read properly when they pull up their shirts to look!  Very clever, I've definitely never seen that before but it's a great way to help your runners stay on course!

The Course:  The Warmup was fully contained in a large metropark about a half hour outside of Columbus.  I loved the scenery but hated crossing the wooden bridges throughout the park.  On such a cold day, they were pretty iced up and there was little hope of the buildup melting.  The very long bridge we crossed twice (right before and right after the turnaround) was treacherous and many participants grabbed the handrails to inch along the curved bridge, afraid the ice and incline would lead to injury.  I carefully tried to pick my way across at a run, but had to slow up a few times for obvious ice patches.  In the spring and fall, I bet this course is stunning!  BIG points for the Swedish fish aid station, too...

The Swag:  Here's the thing about Brokeman's races: they're supposed to be cost-effective, with minimal frills to help keep the cost low.  As you can see, it's the smallest race bib I've ever seen (and I get a kick out of the late signups receiving bibs that say "procrastinator" instead of their chosen distance) but it's pretty cool that I could look at the route map during the race.  My "medal" is just a block of wood with a stamped-on image and a piece of twine as the ribbon; no one receives a shirt unless you want to buy one from their gear store.  This wouldn't be an awful setup, if the race were actually lower cost, but even the earlier entry fees weren't all that cheap!  While writing this, I've tried to look up the fee schedule for the race but this event's webpage doesn't want to load for me, so I can't give you an exact cost but I remember being shocked at how expensive this "cheap, no frills" race actually was.  With no police or city costs on such a well-contained course, and very economical swag, I'd expect a race called "Brokeman's" to be far less expensive.  This was one of the worst values for my money, of all the many races I have run!

The Bottom Line:  I'm glad I got a January half in, and the course was picturesque, but I wouldn't pay for this race again.  There are other races that give you more for your money, and I'm not sure I'm the biggest fan of the no-cup water stops.  I get the environmental impact, but it makes a lot of people have to run a different race than they maybe trained to run.  I'll pass for next year and look for something in a warmer climate with better value for next January.

How much emphasis do you put on a race's "bang for the buck"?  Will a nice or challenging course outweigh a lack of swag if you're debating between races at a similar cost?  Would you prefer a cup-free course or would you rather be able to grab your cup as you pass the stations?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Home Ownership - Thinking Out Loud Thursday

It's been just under seven months of living in my new home, and I must say I'm LOVING it.  Being on my own schedule has been so wonderful, having my belongings around me helps me to relax a little more, and that feeling of "Adultness" is creeping back into my life.  I had dearly missed feeling like my life is my own!

Slowly, the rooms are coming together.  There's so much work to be done still, but I have plenty of time to make this house truly my own.  For now, I have a comfy, useable living room and bedroom; a fully functional kitchen with my own food stocked in the pantry; a nice office that's just about complete pending some wall art; and a craft room that is unfolding one day at a time.  Some rooms need accents and decor, but for the most part the house is liveable.  My "dining room" is giving me some trouble, since I'd rather have it be more of a mock solarium/hippie nook than put a table I'll never use in there and essentially losing the room...  And my basement will be an ongoing battle as I figure out how to arrange my storage, but eventually it'll include a game room and a home gym (which of course you'll see grow and develop right here).

Kaalia finally seems adjusted and actually is allowed free roam of the house while I'm out, which gives her the same sense of freedom I've been enjoying.  I also recently managed to get some fencing up, however temporary, in the sections of my backyard that needed barriers.  Now she can roam free when I let her out instead of being hooked on her yard leash and confined to a small section of the yard.  Playing Frisbee is so much easier now!

I'm finding that with a home totally my own, all my messy tendencies are slowly vanishing.  I do the dishes and the laundry regularly.  I keep my rooms tidy.  I put things away and am even getting a better system in place for organizing my clothes, accessories, crafts, and kitchen items.  Something about this perfect home has me finally believing in myself in new ways...  I've even revamped my wardrobe to dress in ways that make me feel good and confident!  The pieces are finally coming together.

It's amazing how freeing independence can be, isn't it?

Don't forget to check out the Thinking Out Loud linkup to see what other bloggers are musing about this week!  Thanks to Amanda at Running with Spoons for hosting!

What sets you free?  What brings out the better parts of you?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Santa Hustle Cedar Point 2016 Race Recap

(Much of this post was written last December, immediately after the race.  I recently finished the full post in an effort to catch up on the recaps I've missed since.  Hopefully my later additions are accurate portrayals of an event eight months ago!  Look for more catch-up race recaps in the coming days, too!)

As of December 11, I officially regret my decision to run a half marathon every month for a year.  I forgot about that whole "winter" thing, apparently.  Well, I was forcibly reminded when I attempted my December half at Cedar Point in nearby Sandusky.  Ever been there?  It's a peninsula, jutting out into Lake Erie, with a long narrow causeway linking it to the mainland.  Y'know what that's like in winter?  Miserable.

I'm no stranger to running in adverse weather, but I've never completed such a snowy race before; it's usually incredibly hot and humid when I think of "bad running weather".  During the winter months I usually hole up and hide from the snow.  Couldn't manage it this year!  In fact, I almost debated not going to the race at all when I woke up to a couple feet of fresh snow blocking my early-morning departure.  (Un)fortunately, I had planned to meet up at a friend's house to make the journey (and probably run the race) together, so I trudged through the snow, battled the unplowed roads, and joined forces to make the best of the day.

Despite the horrendous driving conditions, we make the trip in pretty good time, and were among the first to arrive.  Packet pickup was located in the parking lot in front of the park - and right on the lakefront - and we were so early they weren't quite ready for customers.  We stood in the cold, thankful that at least the snow had stopped for the time being, before finally being able to grab our items and retreat to the car until closer to the start.

People tricked in and we stayed warm for a while.  I was surprised at the size of the crowd, considering the snowstorm and the less-than-stellar forecast for the rest of the day.  But, we were out there, so why wouldn't everyone else show up too?  We took a few minutes to play around with our new costumes, and realized that the Santa beards that came with the registration might actually help on such a cold day by keeping our faces warm while we ran!  Sadly they were just a little itchy and wouldn't stay in place very well, but we took them on the course anyway just in case.

Runners lined up for the half marathon first, stretching along the back edge of the parking line along the beach.  The race entered the park through a side gate under the newer Gatekeeper roller coaster, and we spent about two miles running through the empty rides to the sound of cheery Christmas tunes playing on the park's loudspeaker system.  The first aid station had chocolate chip cookies, and the second had little cups of M&Ms!  By the time we got back to the front gate, we were thoroughly enjoying what we thought was turning out to be an awesome race.

Things took a bit of a turn once we left the park though.  The next couple miles went around the outside of the park, along the Sandusky Bay where the wind was quickly becoming fierce and COLD.  Even though the park was just over the fence, we could barely here any of the music that was now entertaining the 5k participants (who would add their third mile after running in the park by looping the enormous parking lot), and the aid stations no longer had any treats, just frozen cups of ice.  My friend's injury was acting up, and I wasn't doing great either, so we started the arduous process of walking the majority of the rest of the course.

Crossing the causeway was tough.  Not only did the wind and the dropping temperatures make it bitterly cold, but the causeway is mostly a long arcing bridge, so half of the trip was uphill.  We were still trying a little run-walk mix on the way out, but that rapidly faded into just walking as we turned off the causeway and headed into Sandusky proper.  To make the time pass more quickly, have more fun, and have a positive impact, we started cheering on every single runner we passed (as is my custom in Towpath races).  My friend's favorite little cheer was "way to go Santa Claus" for any of the guys, and "way to go Mrs Claus" or "Mrs Claus' friends" for the gals.  Some people had fun holiday outfits like tutus, festive leggings, or light up shirts, so we specifically called out our favorites and put a lot of smiles on the faces of struggling runners, which in turn put smiles on OUR faces!

Sadly this could not last, as eventually we were no longer passing other runners.  We were getting further behind the people in front of us, and the few people who had still been behind us on the causeway were slowly starting to pass us.  The struggle with injuries won out, though, and we kept walking.  It did give me a chance to connect a little more with my friend, who I mostly knew through running only, so I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, even when the snow returned and mounted into a blizzard by the time we were back at the causeway.

The return trip over the bridge was humbling.  We were seriously struggling.  Somehow we gutted up the hill, down the other side, and back to the parking lot - where we were shocked to realize we still had to make the mile long loop around the lot before we could finish.  Only a handful of cars remained as we were second-to-last in finishing; thankfully the rest of the cars were for organizers who not only kept the finish line up until the last person crossed, but also stayed to take photos (which I didn't buy, but nice that they waited) and make sure we were properly fed and received our medals afterwards.  They were very upbeat and congratulatory, which was very welcome after the grueling 13.1 miles we'd just crossed.

After a bit of stationary recovery in the car, we started our trip back, which also went surprisingly quickly despite the snow.  My friend's incredibly thoughtful beau had hot Chipotle waiting for us upon our return so I got a little extra rest and fuel before hopping back in my car to head the rest of the way home.  It took me hours to warm back up, and I will hopefully never have to finish a race in those conditions again, but I'm glad that I went and finished even against the struggles!

Santa Hustle Half Marathon Breakdown

Organization: The Santa Hustle is a traveling race series that operates in various cities, so they don't really have a local basis, but they DID have quite a few volunteers who were surprisingly peppy for such a cold, early morning!  Check in was quick and easy, the race started promptly, there was ample food and medals even for us back-of-packers, and from what I understand the early packet pickup was a major convenience for people traveling out to Sandusky.  I must say I was pleasantly surprised and, looking back, can't really think of anything about the organization of the race that didn't go pretty smoothly!

The Course:  One of the reasons I registered for this race was because of the Cedar Point-ness of it.  I love amusement parks and visited several times over the past summer.  How cool would it be to run through the empty park??  Well that was really the ONLY good part of the course, and it only lasted two miles.  I really wish they could have had us run the first two AND the last two miles in the park, cutting out much of the boring Sandusky neighborhood portion in the middle of the race.  That would have been much more fun!  I'm also disappointed with the aid stations - not that there weren't enough or they were badly spaced (for all that the water was frozen anyway), but because the race website said "cookies and candy stations throughout" yet we only saw goodies at the first two stations.  I would have loved more goodies later, and I think a hot chocolate station somewhere in the middle of the course would have been perfect.  Also, I hope I never run that causeway again.  Ever.

The Swag:  Costs for this race range from $50 to $70 for the half marathon ($20 cheaper for the 5k), and the website promised a lot of value.  Advertised swag items included the Santa hat and beard, a finisher medal (stockings for the half, but the 5k was something else), a long sleeve tech shirt, and candy cane socks, along with the course amenities.  As you can see by the photo, I'm missing one of those advertized items: I never received any candy cane socks, nor did I see anyone else get a pair!  I didn't even notice that the website had included them until much too late after the event to speak up, so I'll forfeit that battle...  I do have to say, I'm SO much more pleased with the Greenlayer thumb-holed hoodie I received than the non-hoodie shirt design displayed on the site!  It's comfortable and high-quality (although one of my seams on the thumb hole is opening, but I think I got it caught on something).  I see the value in this race, for sure, especially if you register early enough to get the lower end of the rate spectrum.  Paying $50 for this race is a bargain, thanks to the good swag and amenities!

The Bottom Line:  I'm torn on whether I'd say I "recommend" this race.  I do NOT recommend completing the race at a slow walk in the middle of a snowstorm.  That has nothing to do with the race itself though!  If the course went back into the park at the end of the race too, I'd say "done deal, this is a must-run", but that boring Sandusky portion and the chanciness of the causeway in the variable lakeside weather make me cautious.  It's definitely a good value and it's really cool to run through the park in the snow!  But you'll have to make your own decision on whether this December race is right for you.

What are the worst conditions you've fought your way through for a race?  Do you speak up if your race swag isn't what was advertized?  What's your favorite Cedar Point ride?  I'll give you a hint, it's probably Maverick...  ;)