' Santa Hustle Cedar Point 2016 Race Recap | Adventures with FitNyx

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...  ;)

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