Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Carolina Brewsfest Half Marathon 2016 Review

On a cold, wet Saturday morning in April I got to combine my love of running with my beer drinking hobby and run my first beer-themed Half Marathon. While I've finished beer runs ranging from 8k to 15k, The Carolina Brewsfest Half Marathon in High Point, NC was my first beer run totaling 13.1 miles. It is also the only Half Marathon in the Triad followed by a craft beer festival. When I read about this race, I knew I had to participate. They also offered a 5k race. Runners for both distances received free entry into the Carolina Brewsfest after the races. 

I reached out to Junction 311 prior to the race to inquire about a complimentary blogger's entry and they were generous enough to comp my registration fee. I love free races but I also love sharing my experience and expressing my genuine thoughts on a race so you will get nothing but the honest truth from me on ALL my races. 

I'll admit I was a little skeptical about the race taking place in High Point. All other Triad beer runs have taken place in Greensboro or Winston Salem. My impression of High Point before this race also wasn't the greatest. I may have a love/hate relationship now with High Point, the furniture capital of the World. Yes, that's right. Little High Point is home to the International Home Furnishing Market every April and October. On my way to packet pickup I passed through the downtown area where the semi-annual market is held and was astonished at how nice it is! Maybe I should've given High Point a little more credit. More on the hate part of my relationship with High Point in a little bit... 

Early packet pickup was on Thursday at a bar and that was my first indication that this race was going to be great. The location was Brown Truck Brewery on N Main Street.  I would've stopped for a few beers but the bar was about 20 minutes away from my house and I wanted to squeeze a run in before sunset. The alternative option to packet pickup was on Friday at the High Point Omega store or on race morning. In addition to our bibs, we received a race shirt and canvas tote perfect for farmers market shopping. You know, when you buy food to pair with your beer you need a bag to put it all in and this one is perfect. 

I arrived about an hour before the race started on Saturday morning. I was actually thrilled with the 8:30 AM start time. When it comes to races, I've become accustomed to much earlier start times than that. The weather was less than ideal when I arrived. It was chilly and misting before the race took off. I've unfortunately ran in significantly worse conditions so I wasn't worried about a little rain or cold. The cold never bothered me anyway! 

There was a lot of food before the race took off. I have a hard time running with food in my stomach so I had to pass on the fruit and candy offered pre-race to runners. Between the Half Marathon and 5k, there were approximately 1,000 runners. It was definitely one of the smallest races I've participated in. It's an awesome race so everyone who likes beer and running needs to show up in 2017. I prefer larger races with tons of runners and need more beer drinking enthusiasts to run with next year. 

Race Review 

The course: 6/10
That love/hate relationship comes from the rolling hills of High Point. Holy hills! I wasn't expecting such a tough course.  The race started off in residential areas which I was not a fan of but we did run through High Point University's campus and past Oak Hollow Mall. Because of the size of High Point and the number of race participants, there were hardly any spectators on the course. I live for cheers of encouragement so I was disappointed with the turnout. The weather may have also played a role in the lack of spectators, though. 

The swag: 9/10 
In addition to entry into Carolina Brewsfest, runners also received two free beers. I'm not talking Michelob Ultra (not hating on Mich Ultra- it's my fav bikini-conscious beer) but local craft beers. There were dozens of choices. I decided on the Skull Camp Not So Pale Pale Ale and Bombshell Beer Strawberries N Cream Summer Ale. Two totally different beers but both very delicious. Local breweries such as Natty Greene's were also present but I've had all their core beers and wanted to try something different. If you're not from the area and run Carolina Brewsfest Half Marathon in the future, I do recommend stopping at the Natty Greene's tent. I love their Wildflower witbier. There were also food trucks lined up waiting for runners during the festival. It normally takes several hours for my appetite to kick in after a Half Marathon so I did not hit any of these up. 

The medal: 6/10 
This was not my favorite medal. I like big sparkly medals and was hoping these would have big beer mugs on them. You know what would have been really cool? A medal with a bottle opener. For the theme, I was expecting a little more. I'm a medal snob though and at the end of the day any medal is just more bling to add to your collection. 

Overall Experience: 7/10 
If it weren't raining I would have stayed at the festival much longer, bringing overall experience up to an 8 or 9.  Unfortunately it was cold and miserable and I was in the mood to just go home and sleep after finishing my two beers.  Considering my dislike for the hilly course and the smaller amount of runners, I still really enjoyed this race experience. I love themed races because it incorporates more than just running and encourages more people to get involved. The craft beer festival afterwards was great. It kept the race interesting and gave me motivation to finish sooner. It wasn't my greatest time but that's an incentive to come back next year for time improvement. 

It's worth mentioning that there were several other packages you could purchase during registration.  I did not add anything on to my registration, but for $35 you could become unlimited taster and receive a commemorative glass to try every single beer from every single brewery.  With 25 breweries serving 4-6 beers each, you can guarantee a good time with this pass.  Make sure you stay hydrated with plenty of water, though!  There was also a VIP unlimited taster for $60.  I would totally go with this option next year because VIP received entry into a seated section away from the brewery tents.  There was extra food, tables, and plenty of room to mingle over here.  From the looks of it, the VIP experience was well worth the additional $60 on top of your race registration fee.

Next year's event will take place on Saturday May 13th. Junction 311 offers many events throughout the year in addition to Carolina Brewsfest Half Marathon. Check out some upcoming races below for the two options I'm most interested in running! A full list of events is available here.

Big Beach Marathon and Half Marathon 
Gulf Shores, Alabama 
January 31, 2017 
The inaugural event of The Big Beach Marathon promises a flat, fast Boston Qualifying course along the Gulf coast. I would travel all the way to Alabama for this race! Afterwards, there will be a post-race party with free beer and live entertainment. I've never been to Alabama, but from the looks of it this will be a great beach town to run and celebrate in.  There's also a pre-race pasta party the night before both runs. 

Morehead City, North Carolina 
March 4, 2017
I spent the summer after I graduated college soaking up the rays of the Crystal Coast and stuffing my face with fresh seafood daily. The little beach towns of Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle are sure to capture your heart. In March, experience a 5k, 10k, or Half Marathon run across the famous Morehead City bridge then party afterwards in the Southern Outer Banks.

I hope you have as much fun with your beer runs as I had with this one.  Keep running and drinking beer, my friends.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Inaugural Star Wars: Dark Side Challenge Review

Last month, I particpated in runDisney's Star Wars: Dark Side Challenge.  It was a two-day, 19.3 mile challenge including a 10k on Saturday morning and Half Marathon on Sunday morning. My boyfriend participated in his first race ever during the Star Wars 10k.  I believe in peer pressure/encouragement when it comes to making my friends and family fall in love with running so it was only a matter of time before I got him to run a RunDisney race.  I'm so excited to share the memories we made and how he felt about his first RunDisney race!

This was the second time during a runDisney event that I ran for a charity.  Since I ran as a St. Jude Hero for Dopey Challenge as part of my first marathon, I have decided to run all my charity races through St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  I have not yet met my goal, so if you want to support St. Jude you can do so on my fundraising page.  It costs $2 million a day to operate St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and donors are what keeps the hospital and its patients alive and well.  I cannot think of better motivation than running for the children of St. Jude.  If you're looking to run for a charity, my experience running for St. Jude has been nothing but rewarding.  St. Jude Heroes run races all over the country, not just at Walt Disney World. 

We arrived in town after an 11 hour drive (that normally takes 8.5-9 hours) on Friday, April 15th.  Although we really just wanted to check into the hotel and relax for a while, we had to stop at the expo for packet pickup first.  There was nothing too different about this expo.  I saw many of the same vendors that usually show up for a runDisney expo.  There were Star Wars movies playing on the screens outside at ESPN.  I admittedly have never seen a Star Wars movie in my life so I couldn't tell you which one was playing while we were there. 

After picking up our bibs, we walked around looking at merchandise.  I always purchase two official runDisney souvennirs- a wine glass and a pin.  Even though I am not particularly a Star Wars fan, I still intended to get both these items for my collection.  Apparently, there was no wine glass made for this race weekend.  I had a sneaking suspiscion there wouldn't be based off the preview runDisney released of official merchandise earlier in the week.  Their tester pics on social media are not typically inclusive of all ther merchandise but when I did not see a wine glass amongst the merchandise, I for once got a little nervous they weren't being offered. They did offer a beer pint for Star Wars but I really wanted my wine glass.  There were also no challenge pins available at the tkme I hit the expo so I was 0-2 this race with merchandise. 

We left the expo and headed straight to Coronado Springs.  This was the 8th runDisney weekend I've participated in and the first time I have ever stayed on property.  Although I love the place I usually stay, I now prefer staying on property during race weekends.  Because we had to wake up so early the next morning, we decided to spend the night walking around the resort and checking out their bars and pools.  Coronado Springs did not disappoint.  The first night we went to Rix Lounge where they offer cocktails and tapas.  I got a martini and calamari then called it a night while my boyfriend proceeded to hang out at Laguna Bar.  Yes... He was out late at a bar the night before a race. He's clearly an amateur and doesn't know how these things work!

We woke up bright and early on Saturday morning to head to the 10k.  It was convenient being able to hop on the bus and head straight to the race.  Although I've never had an issue with parking, it saved us time being dropped off right at bag checks.  Plus, Star Wars 10k and Half Marathon races both began at Epcot and ended at ESPN, requiring runners who drove to still take a bus after the race. 

The atmosphere of this race was unlinke any runDisney race I've ever ran.  Instead of music blaring and runners dancing and cheering, scenes from Star Wars movies were played before runners took off.  I'm not sure if this is done at Star Wars: Light Side in California, but I wasn't a fan of it.  It had nothing to do with not being a Star Wars fan.  I just prefer the energy typically found at other runDisney races.  

I didn't mention my boyfriends injury... He tore his meniscus one week before the race. Like a trooper. He refused to miss the race and even proclaimed "I will tear my knee the shreds before I get swept from a race." We took off and started pretty quick. I was surprised how quickly he could move with an injury but it didn't last long before he was in major pain. We saw several characters from the beginning.  This was the 5th runDisney 10k I've participated in and the lines were longer than usual for a 10k.  We started in corral C so I can only imagine how long the lines got once the later corrals took off.  Several times during the race, I commented how much I actually liked the course.  I feel like we spent a lot of time in the parks and on the Boardwalk.  We continued to walk a lot due to my boyfriend's injury so that was a bummer.  His goal was to run a fast race and now wants to do another runDisney 10k to make up for it.  He decided on the 10k during Marathon Weekend. 

After the race, we headed to the bus area and had to wait about 15-20 minutes to get on our bus.  Even if I drove, we would have had to take a bus so the wait didn't bother me.  We took a nap once we got back before heading to our O'hanas brunch reservations.  I've said it before and I'll say it again- O'hanas brunch is one of my favorite Disney dining experiences.  Although I do not eat pork, there's still plenty to eat and I leave with a full stomach.  It's $30 a person, which for the view and experience, I find to be extremely reasonable.  My boyfriend is a breakfast food lover like me and was really looking forward to our reservation.  He loved the experience, especially the part where we met Stitch! He also loved the fresh fruit juice. I'm telling you- that juice blend is magical!  It's a shame they don't mix it with vodka because that's the only thing missing.  I asked for a window seat with a view of the castle, as always, and request they keep bringing the homestyle potatoes and Mickey waffles.  Those are my two favorite parts of the meal!  

I spent the remainder of the day lounging by the main pool at Coronado Springs.  I love that pool!  We ordered pizza and calzones from one of my local favorites- Flipper's.  It was hard to find a pizza place that delivered on property but I've had pizza from them before and it's always great. 

I don't know why, but it was difficult for me to wake up early on the second day.  As I was brushing my teeth, I could hear the bus brakes outside my room so I hurried out the door to catch the bus.  I really loved the convenience of the bus stopping right outside our hotel room to take us to the race.  My boyfriend got a few more hours of sleep before meeting me at the finish line. 

The Half Marathon race started out simlarly to the 10k.  Not a whole lot of energy, but scenes from Star Wars movies were played.  It was hard for me to get hyped about this race without the usual levels of energy.  Although I was in a good corral, everyone around me started out slower than I expected and it was hard to pass runners right away.  I think the course crowding and lack of energy really effected my pace.  I ran about 1:00 min/mile slower than I did during Princess Half Marathon, despite breaking my Princess PR by three minutes the weekend before.  My toe bled through my Little Mermaid shoes during the race and I had a spider bit on my ankle which both frustrated me and slowed me down. Not every race can be a PR but this was definitely an off race for me. To this day I still haven't looked at my official time. I suspect it's about 20 min slower than my current PR.

Race Review

The course: 6/10
I loved the Wine & Dine Half Marathon course when it was a nightime race.  This course was essentially the same course, backwards with a few variations.  I'm not a fan of running through Animal Kingdom because some of the back roads smell bad.  The race also started at 5:00 AM although all other 10k and longer distances at Walt Disney World begin at 5:30.  I suspect its because the race took place in April and the potential heat.  This race wasn't extremely hot but the second half of the course didn't have a lot of shade.  That Florida sun beating down on you will slow you down a little bit.  Although I liked ending at ESPN for the 10k, for some reason I didn't enjoy that part of the course during the Half Marathon.  Maybe it was the flashbacks from WDW Marathon... I don't know.  I think the biggest thing for me was not running through Cinderella's castle.  My favorite part of any Half Marathon at Disney is running through the castle (Cinderella or Aurora).  This course didn't run through Magic Kingdom so that element was missing.  I never missed it so much during Wine & Dine because the Osbourne Family Lights Show made up for it. 

The swag: 7/10 
I hold Disney to a higher standard than most race series because of my past experiences and the cost of registration. These shirts were not my favorite and that has nothing to do with the Star Wars theme. There was also limited merchandise available at the expo and the elimination of wine glasses bothers me. 

The medals: 8/10
There's no denying that RunDisney has fantastic medals. I felt The Dark Side Challenge medal was lacking creativity but the Half Marathon medal was great. It's one of my largest medals and it incorporates a spinner. 

Overall Experience: 7/10
There were a few things about this race that disappointed me (the course, merchandise selection, etc.) but at the end of the day I got to run through Walt Disney World and my race benefited the children of St. Jude.  For those two reasons alone, I would absolutely run Star Wars again.  I have an annual pass to Walt Disney World so I may as well get use out of it during all four race weekends.  I'm hoping they add one more race to the lineup because at one point they had five annual race weekends at Walt Disney World. 

My last runDisney race for the year will be in November during Lumiere's Challenge.  With all the changes to Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend, I'm looking forward to those races and sharing my experience through my blog.  

Star Wars: Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend will be April 20-23, 2017 and registration opens August 9th. Although it took an extended period of time for the 2016 race to sell out, there is no telling if the 2017 races will be the same case.

Keep running!


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Rock 'N Roll Raleigh Remix Challenge Recap

In April, I completed three half marathons. The first one of the month was the Rock N Roll Half Marathon in Raleigh, NC. The Rock N Roll race series has been visiting the Capital of North Carolina since 2014, but this was the Inaugural year of the 5k and Remix Challenge. Because I'm motivated by bling, I registered for both the 5k and Half Marathon.

Raleigh is about 70 miles east from where I live so I stayed with a friend for the whole weekend rather than driving back and forth. The 5k took place on Saturday April 9th and hosted approximately 2,000 runners. The 5k was the only event in Raleigh that was sold out before the expo. Although packet pickup was available at the expo, I didn't make it before closing at 7pm on Friday night so I had to pick up my bib on Saturday morning. 

I attended both races with a friend and we parked at the parking deck across from the Raleigh Convention Center. It was approximately a half mile walk to the start of the 5k race. We had to rush to get there early in order to pick up our bib. The volunteers at the table were very organized and efficient. We got our bibs quickly and were able to start just a few corrals back from my assigned #1 corral. There were too many runners to push through to get all the way to the front. 

I was aware of the hills in the Raleigh course and of course the 5k started out with some small hills. The scenery of the 5k was gorgeous, though. I also loved running past the bands. The weather was a little chilly for April but it was also especially windy. 

This was actually my first timed 5k since running cross country. How is that possible? RunDisney 5ks are not chip-timed. The only other 5k race I've participated in is The Running of the Balls 5k. It's considered The Greatest 5k(ish) on Earth at approximately 3.5 miles so it's also not chip-timed. I've done two RunDisney 5ks and two Running of the Balls 5ks. Other than those four races, all my other races have been longer distances. The RNR Raleigh 5k would be a PR for me regardless so I took it easy and enjoyed the course. 

After crossing the finish line, I headed straight to the beer tents. I was a little annoyed because even after showing my ID when picking up my bib in the morning, they failed to give me a wristband to drink. I had to walk all the way over to bag check for my ID and back to the beer tent before I could drink. I ended up getting six beers though so I couldn't complain. It blows my mind how many people don't drink alcohol and were just giving away their tickets! Michelob Ultra is my favorite light beer so I couldn't turn any of them down! It took me a little while to finish my beers so I was able to stay long enough to cheer the last runner to the finish line. There was also a band playing at the finish line and I was elated to hear "Wagon Wheel" while drinking my beers! 

After leaving the 5k, we headed to the expo at The Raleigh Convention Center. The expo was really organized and well put together. I walked in and was able to pick up my Half Marathon bib right away. They also gave me the wristband for my Remix Challenge medal. Unlike other race series that offer a challenge medal for completing multiple races, RNR requires runners to register for challenge races individually. I like this process because I know I'm not paying extra money for a challenge medal. Some races require you to sign up for a challenge which costs more than te combined cost of each individual race registration. I stopped at a few booths in the expo but didn't spend too much time there. 

I went to bed on Saturday knowing that we would have colder than average temperatures on Sunday morning but that forecast changed overnight and it was 30 degrees when we got to the race. Since I was from out of town, I hadn't even packed clothes for such a cold race! The weather was definitely making me nervous because it was also very windy again. Neither the wind nor the below freezing temperatures are representative of April weather in North Carolina. 

Due to road closures, we got to the race about an hour and a half early to park. We stayed in the car for about half an hour to stay warm then eventually braved the cold to make our way to the starting line. The lobby of The Marriott was open for runners so we stayed in there for a while. I've actually stayed at this hotel before for business and loved it. Had I not had a free place to stay, I would've stayed here and I recommend anyone traveling for RNR Raleigh stay here. It has close proximity to the race and was very comfortable. It's also walking distance to downtown bars. My personal favorite is Raleigh Times. 

The energy at the starting line was high. I was dancing and shivering as corrals were taking off and we were moving up. I was in corral 15 but they were taking off about 1-2 minutes apart. I started off the race at a great pace and was able to keep that pace for the first few miles. 

Raleigh definitely earns its reputation for being a hilly city. The entire course was rolling hills. I'm thinking the 30 degree weather made my muscles so numb I couldn't even feel the burn because I just kept running through them. The steepest hills were between mile 7 and 8 on Peace Street. After making it through the toughest part of the race, there was a nice spectator handing out mimosas at mile 8. I'm either incredibly brave or incredibly dumb for taking one, but how often do you get to drink a mimosa during a half marathon? This girl doesn't turn down mimosas! 

About a mile of the course went through the campus of North Carolina State University. Being a graduate of East Carolina University, I am by no means a Wolfpack fan. It's easy to say this was my least favorite part of the race. The rest of the course was beautiful, though. I loved the parks and being able to run through downtown. 

I miraculously managed to shave almost three minutes off my Half Marathon PR which completely surprised me. I crossed the finish line jamming out to a Demi Lovato song and that's my girl! 

After crossing the finish line I was given my finisher medal and chocolate milk. In order to get my challenge medal, I had to walk about half a mile down to Red Hat Ampitheatre. It was too cold for a beer (yes, those words just came out of my mouth) so I just sat and watched the awards ceremony. Like many other runners, I had to capture a picture of my medals in front of the Sir Walter Raleigh statue. 

I had a really great time at RNR Raleigh. I've grown up close to Raleigh so it's a city I'm familiar with. The race itself was a lot of fun. It was my first RNR event and I had no idea what to expect. I'm sure Raleigh has a smaller crowd than some or their larger cities (Las Vegas, Nashville, Savannah, etc) but that didn't change anything. I will be doing one more RNR race this year in Virginia Beach. That race is a two day event offering a challenge medal on Labor Day weekend. I can't wait for another RNR experience!

I'll definitely participate in RNR Raleigh next year. I think I can handle the hills in the full marathon but I haven't definitely decided which distance I'll run. If I run the half again and beat my time I'll receive a cool koozie and that's a pretty strong determinant. I'll let you know in the next few months which distance I'll run! 

See you next year in Raleigh!