Monday, September 21, 2015

2015 Carowinds Run & Ride Race Recap

This past weekend, I experienced my first Run & Ride Race.  If you haven't done one of these races yet, I highly reccommend you put it on your agenda!  It is a race series that currently takes place at five different Cedar Fair parks: Carowinds, Cedar Point, Dorney Island & Wildwater Kingdom, Kings Island, and Valley Fair.  They allow you the opportunity to choose a race distance varying from a 1 mile fun run to a half marathon, run the course, then spend the day riding the coasters.  I love roller coasters and running, so I think this combination is the best thing since beer runs.  It was a fun and rewarding race and I'm so excited I get to share my experience running it.  I will start by saying that my race fee was waived as a blogger but I still want to share my honest opinion with my followers. 

This weekend consisted of a 1 mile/5k run on Saturday, September 12th and a 10k/half marathon on Sunday, September 13th.  I participated in the half marathon and picked up my race packet on Saturday afternoon.  The packet included complimentary tickets to the park for TWO days!  5k and 10k runners received one complimentary ticket.  All runners had access to discounted park tickets for themselves, friends, and family.  I felt like this was a generous gesture and an awesome way for Run & Ride to express their gratitude for supporting this race series.  Packet pickup was Friday and Saturday and runners received an email prior to race weekend outlining available times for packet pickup.  

I have a season pass to Carowinds so I brought a friend on Saturday with one of my complimentary tickets.  We spent about two hours in the park.  The park was pretty crowded, as usual on Saturdays, so I knew I would have the opportunity to ride my favorite coasters the next day with a smaller wait time.  After leaving the park, I of course indluged in a carbo-load.  For those that don't know me, this ritual is my favorite part about running a half marathon.  I'm a bread head so I ate lobster roll for this race. I typically avoid alcohol the entire week leading up to a race,  but we went to a local bar and I couldn't resist one pint of pumpkin ale.  Beer has carbs too, right?  Plus, my college alumna, ECU, was playing in football so I had to cheer on my boys in typical Pirate fashion!

I made it to bed by 11:00 pm since I would be waking up around 6:00 am.  I arrived at the park at 7:00am for the 7:30am start.  Runners were able to park for free and there was a parking lot reserved just for us.  That lot just so happened to be right next to the starting line, too!  I love how convenient they made everything in this race.  There wasn't much entertainment going on before the race, though.  There was, however, a photo opportunity with Snoopy which I of course took advantage of. 

The course itself was relatively flat which made me super excited.  I HATE HILLS!  We started our first mile and a half in the parking lot.  On the first lap, we went through the park, the water park and Carowinds Campgrounds.  This campgrounds were pretty hilly and I heard other runners complaining about it on the course.  Fortunately, we did not have to run through that area on our second lap.  It was pretty exciting that the entire time we were on Carowinds property, at any given time you could look around and see multiple rides.  The hard-to-miss Fury 325 coaster was visible at pretty much any point on the course.  Side note: This is the most thrilling roller coaster I've ever been on.  If you haven't ridden it yet, the roller coaster itself should be motivation to train for one of next years' races.  There were also plenty of water stations.  And by water, I mean Powerade.  I love it when races offer water AND Powerade.  Water just isn't enough to hydrate me while pushing through 13.1 miles.

I beat my PR on this race by 4:36.  Compared to other races, there was little congestion and the distance was pretty accurate.  My favorite part was the announcer saying my name as I crossed the finish line.  I've never participated in a race that does that!  The medals were also pretty nice.  The ribbon displayed the Carowinds logo for the half marathon and all others had solid blue ribbons.  Every medal displayed the distance, but there was no date or park on the medal.  I'm not a fan of generic medals, so hopefully they'll switch it up for next year. 

After completing the race, runners had access to a table of fruit, bagels and cream cheese, and beverages.  I noticed most runners left the finish line area almost immediately after finishing the race.  I'm a fan of mingling with other runners afterwards.  Maybe a little post-race entertainment would encourage runners to stay a little longer?  Results were available immediately after crossing the finish line.  Photographers were spread throughout the course, and their pictures were made available on Monday FREE OF CHARGE.  I loved not having to pay for pictures from my race.  I also loved riding the coasters with literally no lines on Sunday morning.  The park was not crowded AT ALL that early in the morning.  I walked right up to Intimidator and Fury 325, two of the best roller coasters in the park. 

If you're looking for food after the race, I'm typically not a fan of park food.  BUT Carowinds recently added Harmony Hall and they have healthy choices that taste great!  If you want to eat immediately following a race, you can get fresh salads and fruit bowls in there.  They also serve personal pizzas and beer.  What's the point in running 13.1 miles if you can't enjoy a little pizza and beer afterwards?

The next day I received an email requesting me to complete a survey on my experience.  I appreciate how much they value our feedback, so I gave an honest opinion.  I thought this was a great race, so there was little for me to advise.  I do think the starting time should have been about an hour earlier.  I am by NO MEANS an early-riser but the park opens to the public at 10:00.  There were still runners on the course at this time.  Being a bling-junkie, I of course voiced my opinion about the generic medals.  Hopefully next year we will have a date and park name on the medals.  It would be REALLY cool if the medals featured a ride the park is most known for, but that may be pushing it a little.  I whole-heartedly would reccommend this race to friends (I even had a friend run the 10k with me this year)!  Considering everything you get, it's a great value.  At the time I registered, the half marathon was $110.  For this fee, you not only get to experience an incredible race, but you get park admission for two days.  I can't think of another race that compares to this one in terms of value.

This race series has two more stops for the 2015 year.  Run at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom October 3-4 or at Kings Island October 23-25.  The Kings Island weekend includes a 5k Glow Run on Friday night.  With the half marathon on Sunday morning, I would add the 5k into my race itinerary for the extra miles and the extra bling!  All five locations will host this race weekend in 2016 with the addition of Kings Dominion as their sixth destination!  Living in North Carolina, I'm excited to see a Virginia race added to the series.  It's not too far of a drive for me to go up there for the weekend and it's one of my favorite parks.

Tell me about your experience running at Carowinds, or any Cedar Fair park for that matter!  I can't wait to hear your stories.