Friday, September 16, 2016

First Race of Fall 2016: Carowinds Run & Ride Race Review

After a long hot summer of training runs for Chicago Marathon, I finally had my first race since early June.  It felt good to be back.  I feel like I'm in my zone on race weekends and I didn't miss a beat getting back into that element.  This was my third Run & Ride Weekend and second year running at Carowinds.  I walked the 5k on Saturday and ran the Half Marathon on Sunday as part of the Total Inversion package.  It was hot, but it was one heck of a weekend!

The races at Carowinds were actually supposed to be my second race weekend of the fall.  You know that means I've got a story to tell...  I had actually registered for Rock N Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon set to take place only seven days before Run & Ride Carowinds Half Marathon.  I had kinda forgotten about it and was running around like a chicken with my head cut off to make reservations last minute.  There was also the threat of Hurricane Hermine approaching the Outer Banks and I just knew with my luck I would book an expensive hotel room only to have the race cancelled due to weather.  Around Noon on Friday 9/2, RNR announced the One Mile Sand Run scheduled to take place on Saturday had been cancelled due to weather but the races on Sunday would still take place.  They later announced that runners unable to make it to the Half Marathon could receive a transfer to any 2016 or 2017 race.  I was SO tempted to transfer to Las Vegas and run the strip with one of my friends, but I'll be racing Race 13.1 Orlando that weekend.  So I did what any sensible girl would do- I TRANSFERRED TO NASHVILLE!  For the past three years I have felt intense amounts of FOMO when scrolling through my newsfeed the last weekend of April but that FOMO is NO MO'!  I'm packing my boots and heading west to Nashville, TN next spring!  Stay tuned for updates.

RNR Nashville excitement aside, it's time for me to share my excitement from my weekend running at Carowinds!  By the time I got off work on Friday afternoon, packed, and rolled into town it was too late for me to pick up my race packet.  Run & Ride sent out an email to all participants detailing the hours they would be available for packet pick-up and on Friday afternoon it happened to be from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM.  The email stated that packet pick-up would be available the morning of the races and that runners picking up packets on race morning should arrive no later than 45 minutes before the races were scheduled to start.  So I did just that and arrived to see quite a long line.  No worries!  It was my fault I couldn't make it the night before so I stood in line and received my packet for both the 5k and Half Marathon.  Although I was running two distances, I just received the Half Marathon shirt.  The Half Marathon shirt is a tech shirt- the 5k was not.  I didn't even want the 5k shirt because I wouldn't have ever run in it.  No complaints there!

I do want to call out the runners who showed up with only 15 minutes to spare before the scheduled start time, needing to pick up bibs.  This backed up the line, causing the race to start at 8:40 AM rather than 8:30 AM.  The delay was no big deal but it could've been avoided.  Just saying.  The Peanuts characters were out for pictures before and after the race started so that kept runners occupied while waiting to start.

I didn't run the 5k when I participated in the Carowinds Run & Ride Race last year, so I was excited to see that the entire course stayed in the park.  For the most part, it followed an abridged, backwards version of the Half Marathon course.  It was hot, but it was a lot of fun.  I walked it with a friend, stopping to take pictures at every opportunity.  We headed into the park for a few hours and left in time for me to watch some Pirate Football.  My East Carolina University Pirates beat North Carolina State 36-33 so that was just the whipped cream on top of a scrumptious key lime pie (I'm not a cake person so saying "icing on top of the cake" doesn't do my weekend justice).

I went to bed early on Saturday night while my boyfriend and his friends went out to Dave and Buster's.  They were getting into bed around 5:00 AM while I was waking up so I knew they were going to struggle to make it to the finish line to see me.  Spoiler alert: They didn't make it in time!

I arrived at the park about 30 minutes before the Half Marathon took off.  Runners are allowed to park right up front for free on race day so there's no traffic or parking issues to ever deal with.  Although I already had my packet and bib, I was relieved to see that there was no line for packet pick-up.  Since this race fell on the 15th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we took a moment of silence to honor and remember the victims lost and the sacrifices made on that horrific day.

This year's course for the Half Marathon was slightly different than last year's course.  They both consisted of two loops around the park.  Last year, runners went through the campgrounds on the first loop but not the second which resulted in a long stretch of parking lot at the end.  The second loop this year included the campgrounds, which shortened the parking lot stretch at the end by a lot.  There were bagels and fruit at the finish line, as always.  The temperature was definitely much hotter this year than last year so that was unfortunate.  Regardless the heat, I had a blast and won't ever forget this weekend.

I have zero desire to see my finish time for this race.  I was on pace to beat my PR up until mile 9 which was AWESOME.  I began to feel dehydrated though and there were not enough water stops to get me feeling normal again so I listened to my body and took the remaining 4 miles easy.  Although I voluntarily neglected to look at my time, there are many runners who crushed this course, broke PR's, tackled their first Half Marathon or accomplished so many other goals that couldn't see their times.  There was an issue with the timing chips that was far out of Rev 3's control.  I have ALWAYS had my results available to me at Run and Ride races immediately.  In fact, when I crossed the finish line at the 2015 Carowinds Half, I was able to walk over to a booth that printed out my official race results right then and there.  How cool is that?

The usual chip timing company was apparently unavailable this weekend so Run & Ride opted to use a local chip timing company to manage race results.  The company who makes the timing chips sent a faulty batch to the timing chip company and the problem was not discovered until runners began crossing the finish line on Saturday morning for the 5k.  For the most part, the chip timing company was able to problem solve and find a work-around by scanning bibs to match the tracker to the participant but this solution did not work in every situation.  Run & Ride is working diligently to ensure all runners receive recognition for their performance during this weekends' races.  Because of the timing issue, awards will be mailed to those who placed and runners have been offered a generous discount for future races.

I can confidently say this error is uncharacteristic of Run and Ride races and the experience they always provide.  Every time an issue popped up this weekend, race staff had a quick and effective solution.  The chip timing defect  was entirely out of their hands and they are still bending over backwards to make the situation right.  I think their actions speak volumes about how deeply they care about their runners and the pride they take in providing a great running experience.  For this reason, I will continue to run and ride with them as long as I can.  At the end of the day, I'm glad I have the health and resources to allow me to run Half Marathons and I would not let something as small as race results being delayed ruin my race experience.  I'm not downplaying the unfortunate situation, but there are far more important things in life and I'm glad I am able to recognize that.

Now comes the fun part- the race review!

The course: 7/10
For the most part, this course is flat and it's almost entirely in the park.  There are hills in Dinosaurs Alive and the campgrounds, both of which we had to run through twice.  I give the 5k course a 9/10 because there is no loop to complete a second time and the entire course provides a scenic route through the park and newly-expanded water park.

The swag: 10/10
As long as Run and Ride provides us with free tickets to the park, I will keep giving them a perfect score in the swag category.  Runners can elect to receive a one-day or weekend admission ticket with their registration.  Considering early registration is far cheaper than a park ticket, the race offers a significant value to runners.  In addition to the park ticket, 10k and Half Marathon runners all receive a ticket to skip the wait on the ride of their choice.  My group used ours on Nighthawk, a flying roller coaster that features a double corkscrew.  This ride typically has the longest wait in the park so I'm extremely appreciative of the opportunity to skip this line.  We stayed in the park until the late afternoon on Sunday and were able to ride every roller coaster with little to no wait.

The medals: 9/10
Run and Ride really came up with a unique concept when they decided to put Peanuts characters in roller coaster trains for their 2016 medals.  The ability to connect medals with the hidden magnets is my favorite part.  All runners can create their own train based on their races since all runners earn a unique combination of medals.  They will use the same concept for next year but will allow participants the ability to vote for other characters through social media.

Having run two locations this year, I wish there was a way to differentiate the medals by the park I earned them at. The ribbon on my 2015 medal has the Carowinds logo so I'm hoping they bring that back with the 2017 medals! 

Overall Experience: 9/10 
Run & Ride Carowinds will always be one of my favorite races.  It's the first Half Marathon I ran in my current state of North Carolina but it also crosses borders into South Carolina!  It's a fun, unique experience and provided a great amount of fun.  I met so many runners from social media groups this year and I can't wait to run with them again.  The heat was brutal, but the water park stays open one week past Labor Day for runners to cool off.  I need to remember to pack my bikini next time!

You can read my 2015 Carowinds Race Review here and my 2016 Kings Dominion Race Review here.  For a listing and description of all 2016 Run & Ride Races, click here.  There are still two more race weekends in 2016 for the Run & Ride Race series, and you can receive 15% off any race distance by using code RUNBARBIE15.

There will not be any new locations for the 2017 Run & Ride Race series, however, a Half Marathon will be added to the Kings Dominion race lineup making it a two-day event.  Registration will open soon for the events scheduled in June 2017.  Stay tuned for all 2017 Run & Ride details on the blog!