RaceGrader - Authentic Race Reviews - Swim, Bike, Run

RACE REVIEWS

Posted by: on December, 27 2011

Here is a sampling of some recent reviews published on RaceGrader.  We encourage past participants to share their race experiences to help other athletes prepare for upcoming events.  Tips on the course, where to park, the registration process, etc...can all be very helpful.  To write or read a review of a particular race, just type the name of the race into “Find A Race” on the right side of this page.  Keep Racing!

Review of Orange County Turkey Trot by jeffcar1

Used to run the Dana Point race up until a few years ago, as it just got way too large. Parking, and logistics make for a long day for Thanksgiving. When I heard about this one, so close to home, smaller field, and less expensive, I decided to give it a try. For an inaugural race, it was put on very well, sure it started late, mainly due to a lot of people who just showed up because they couldn't get into the larger race down south. Even with the late start though, I was still able to get home far earlier than if I had done Dana Point. The course was flat and fast, great tee-shirts, medals, pie and other freebies after the race. I will definitely be back next year and I am sure they will be more than ready for an even larger field next year.

Review of Rock N Roll Marathon/Half Marathon - Las Vegas by Scott Devine

RACE: Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon DATE: November 16, 2014 LOCATION: Las Vegas, NV DISTANCES: Marathon/Half Marathon/Half of Half Marathon/5K START TIME: 4:30pm WEATHER AT START: 51° and sunny... colder when the sun went down. FINISHERS: 25,172 (Half Marathon)/ 3208 (Full Marathon) "Viva Las Vegas" everyone! It was a busy night in "Sin City" as almost 30,000 runners shut down the famed Las Vegas strip, gambling that they could finish the latest running of the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon/Half Marathon. REGISTRATION/EXPO Registration fees for Rock 'n' Roll races are definitely on the high side and Las Vegas is one of their most expensive ones (guess it costs a lot to shut down the strip). Waiting until the last minute you can expect to spend over $150 for the half marathon. Fortunately, Rock 'n' Roll offers numerous discounts online (including $13 off of races each 13th of the month). And there is another option as you can sign up for the North American "TourPass" (unlimited Rock 'n' Roll races in the US for $449 in 2015). I registered for the Las Vegas race courtesy of the "TourPass 3-Pack" for $199. My 3-Pack also included the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon (in July) and Rock 'n' Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon (in October). It's a pretty good deal, basically giving you 3 races for the price of 2. Unfortunately I can't comment on the race expo as I didn't arrive in Las Vegas until 2 hours before the race. From what I heard from other runners, the expo was fairly sizable and presented a good variety of vendors offering up their goods. I chose to pay for same day bib/shirt pick-up, which was available for an additional $40. That's a bit pricey for a basic service; clearly the high cost was designed to discourage everyone except for seriously "time crunched" runners. Since I had races on both Saturday and Sunday morning in CA, I had no option but to agree to pay the extra fee because runners had to pick up their own bibs (no sending friends/family in your stead). MEDALS/SHIRT/SWAG The Rock 'n' Roll series typically has decent bling and shirts (the 2014 Rock 'n' Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon tech shirt was a miss) and they kept that "more good than bad" trend going in Vegas. Given that there is a "lil bit" of gambling going on in Las Vegas, it makes sense that the bling would celebrate our love of giving our hard earned money to the casinos. This year's medal featured an overlapping trio of playing cards: the 11 of clubs, 16 of hearts and 14 of spades, showing the date of the race (I'm waiting for some blackjack dealer to pull out the 14 of spades). The medal also featured a red ribbon and the various playing card suits (the full marathon had a black ribbon). And bonus, the medal also glows in the dark! The Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas race typically has black colored tech shirts and this year is no different. The shirt features the well-known "Welcome to Vegas" sign mashed-up with the race's "We Run The Night" slogan. TRANSPORTATION/PARKING For those traveling to Vegas you're visiting the land of taxis, so getting around shouldn't be a problem. If you drove to Vegas, odds are you parked at one of the casinos/hotels where you're staying. Parking should be free (don't worry, they'll get that back from you at the tables). Another option is to use the Vegas monorail (get yourself a day pass and you'll be fine). Or of course you could just hoof it along the strip (think of it as a warm-up). Be warned that the start line (Mandalay Bay) and the finish line (Mirage) are a bit of a ways apart, so be prepared to trek either before or after the race. I stayed at the Luxor, so I had quite the walk in the cold after the race. COURSE (HALF MARATHON) The Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon features a basically flat "modified out & back" course as runners make their way down the main strip. FYI, this is one of only two nights a year that the strip is closed to traffic (the other is New Year's Eve). Runners are gathered into 42 different corrals (a big field of racers) and start near the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Initially, runners head south to the outskirts of the city, hanging a U-turn shortly after the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign (great photo op set up there). After that, runners basically head back up the strip past all of the popular casinos (MGM, Bellagio, Caesar's Palace, Treasure Island... just to name a few) as they make their way toward the older part of the town. I have to say that running down the main strip of Vegas is a pretty sweet experience (talk about sensory overload). And the throngs of cheering fans/"gamblers taking a break" make it even better. Around mile 7, runners leave the strip and weave through a bunch of nondescript Las Vegas side streets. This is definitely not the highlight of the race as the bright lights of the strip are temporarily gone and your only illumination comes from street lights and some temporary generators. The meandering backstreets eventually lead runners to Freemont Street, but unfortunately only the full marathon runners get to run down the famed boulevard. The half marathoners turn just shy of the street and instead make their way back to the strip. The final 3 miles retrace your route on the main Las Vegas strip, passing multiple casinos and hitting the finish line around the Mirage. SERVICES The Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon had solid services before and during the race. They had a nice pre-race area, complete with live music to help runners get in the mood to pound the pavement (and an elevated VIP area for those who wanted to pay extra). Multiple water/Gatorade stops were situated along the route as well as plenty of medical tents/areas. And MarathonFoto was out in force snapping photos all along the way (and thank you for placing multiple photographers at the "Welcome to Vegas" sign). Mile markers were present on the course, although the only digital clocks were at the start and finish line (bring your GPS watch). And runner tracking was available for friends/family so they could leave the warm casinos (and slot machines) in time to cheer you on at the finish line. FINISH/POST PARTY The finish line area for the race was basically a cordoned-off chute along the Vegas strip. On the upside, runners were given a plethora of things upon completing the race... water, chocolate milk, Gatorade, Powerbar wafers, chips, fruit and the much needed mylar blankets given the dropping temperatures (I took two). Some plastic bags to carry the snacks might have helped, especially with runners sporting chilled fingers at this point. On the downside, given the huge number of runners, the chute felt increasingly cramped. Rather than dawdle, I grabbed my snacks and quickly made my way out of the finish area. There was a post party with live music, but to be honest I was simply too tired and cold to hang around and party. Instead, I made a beeline for my hotel and a much needed warm shower. RECOMMENDATION I've run the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon twice before, in 2010 when it was still a morning race and again in 2011, the first year it was run at night (and an unorganized disaster). It seems that Rock 'n' Roll has fixed many of the shortcoming of that original nighttime race. The current incarnation of the half marathon/marathon is rather enjoyable. This is definitely one of the larger (and pricier) races you'll run with over 25,000 finishers in the half marathon alone. Nighttime races are not the norm and that novelty alone is enough reason to give the race a try. And if you're a fan of Vegas, this gives you another reason to check it out. Also, if you're one of those hardcore racers who want to to run two races in a single weekend... or even attempt two races in a single day (which I did)... this is a great destination. Viva Las Vegas... and Run on!

Review of Veterans Day Run - San Diego by mariemadeline

This race was by far the most unorganized race I have ever done. I participated in the race on November 8, 2014, but this listing if for last year's run. They did not give clear driving directions, and there was not enough parking for the runners. The post race was very lacking and the race crew was not very helpful when asked any questions. They advertised that the race was chip timed, and I had asked if there was a time limit, but they told me there wasn't. They did, however, stop recording race times at 45 minutes, even though there were still some participants that had not completed the race, and I was one of those participants. I e-mailed and messaged for 4 days, but received no response of any kind. I will never participate in a race organized by Race Operations, Inc., also known as Heavenly Racing. This company has an F rating at the BBB for not responding to any complaints. Stay away!

Review of Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon by Scott Devine

RACE: Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon DATE: November 16, 2014 LOCATION: Anaheim, CA DISTANCES: Half Marathon/5K/Kids Race START TIME: 5:30am WEATHER AT START: 55° Partly cloudy… and windy as hell. FINISHERS: 10,449 for the Half Marathon (4042 Men/6407 Women) Disney has added a new race to its fall California schedule, as runners dressed up as their favorite Marvel super heroes for the inaugural running of this half marathon. The villain at this race, however, were the blustery Santa Ana winds that battered runners throughout the race. REGISTRATION/EXPO Disney races have the distinction of basically being the costliest in the land and also just about the fastest to sell out. The first running of the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon sold out in just 110 minutes and those fortunate enough to make the roster paid $195 (plus convenience fees) for a whopping $208 price tag. That’s enough to make even Tony Stark say “Ouch.” Oh, and for the record did anyone else notice the absence of Tony Stark and his alter ego Iron Man from the race (probably some contactual or legal issue that keep this hero at home)? As for the expo, like its Disneyland Half Marathon counterpart, the Avengers race held its expo on Friday and Saturday at the Disneyland Hotel. I can’t speak too much about the expo because I basically missed it. Thanks to traffic I arrived just as the doors were about to close on Saturday at 4:00pm (a little early to close the day before a race if you ask me). I barely got my bib and tech shirt before I was informed that the expo was now closed. From what I heard, the expo was decent sized with a good number of vendors on hand to show you their latest wares. Parking at the Disneyland Hotel is usually $17, but the cost was waived for a half hour (according to the parking attendants). I have a feeling you could take as long as you want without being charged. NOTE: Runners had to pick up their own bibs; no exceptions. One note about the expo has to do specifically with the Disney merchandise available for purchase. Like many of the Disney races, people stampede the expo early on Friday to buy as much as they can and turn around and sell it on eBay for a profit. The downside is many runners reach the expo only to find the shelves empty of the souvenirs they so desperately covet (even with inflated price tags). C’mon Disney, surely you can come up with a method that allows all of the runners to be able to purchase your goods (say perhaps online) or maybe you can stock a bunch more (it’s most likely going to sell). MEDALS/SHIRT/SWAG Disney prides itself on its race bling and they did a solid job on the inaugural Avengers race. The medal features a revolving Avengers (“A”) logo and a black ribbon emblazoned with the crests of the various Marvel heroes. And while the medal could have used a little more color (maybe make the “A” black or red), it is pretty sweet. The tech shirt (voted upon by participants) ended up being a straightforward black design complete with the race’s “tech style” logo on the front and race sponsors on the back. Not overly original, but crisp, clean and still pretty neat. Oh, and an added twist was the shirt was a long sleeve. I think most runners were expecting a short sleeved shirt, but again no complaints. TRANSPORTATION/PARKING Like other Disney races, you have a myriad of choices when it comes to parking. If you stay overnight at a hotel (like I did) expect to spend $20 on parking (one of those annoying added costs that hotels tack on to your bill… you hear me “occupancy fee”). For those of you who choose to park at the Disneyland theme park, prepare to shell out $17 (no breaks on price here). Fortunately, the city provides shuttles from many of the major hotels to the start area. COURSE This flat “loop” course turned out to be a pleasant surprise for me. Courses around Disneyland tend to be a combination of good and bad. Good: running through California Adventure, Disneyland and Angels’ Stadium. Bad: pretty much the rest of the course. When I signed up for the race, I expected this course to be a carbon copy of the Disneyland Half Marathon route. Happily, the middle portion was a bit different. The best part of the race was still the beginning of the race when you run through California Adventure and Disneyland (done by mile 3). Inside the parks you can stop to have your picture taken with a number of costumed Avengers (and a few other Disney characters too). Once outside the park, you did again run around the streets and neighborhoods of Anaheim, but this time it seemed to be a better part (or at least slightly more scenic part) of Anaheim. At mile 8 you make your way into Angels’ Stadium where you get to run around the playing field (and can see yourself on the Jumbotron). Once outside of the stadium, you make your way back to the Disneyland Hotel and the finish line. SERVICES Just as Disney is known for high prices, they’re also known for being very organized. The pre-race areas were laid out well, complete with video screens, video montages and a pair of “overly-caffeinated” hosts to get us all ready to pound the pavement. On the course, the race had a similar organized feel. Aid stations were numerous and well-manned with volunteers. Plenty of photographers from MarathonFoto were on the course and participants and their families were able to track their progress with free runner tracking. Disney did have a problem this race with its mile markers. While the signs themselves were cool (and each had a digital clock showing the elapsed time), several were blown over by the high winds (not Disney’s fault). I did notice however, that two of the markers were not at their proper spots (the mile 8 marker was almost at 8 1/2 miles… I verified this with several other runners). It’s unlike Disney to make this kind of mistake, perhaps it just got blown almost a half mile by the winds. FINISH/POST PARTY The finish line was just as organized as the start area. Runners were greeted by volunteers hanging finisher’s medals around their necks and others handing out pre-packaged boxes of post-race snacks. RECOMMENDATION On the upside, the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon is a well organized race showing off the standard Disney treatment. Running through Disneyland is fun and the swag is good. However, the race does fail to separate itself from other Disney races. It feels pretty much like every other Disney race, just with a different skin (The Avengers instead of Mickey Mouse). For the $195 price tag I was expecting something a bit more… heroic? Unless you are a diehard Disney-phile who must do every race the mouse puts out, I think you’ll suffer from a “been there, done that” vibe. I’m worried that the Star Wars Half Marathon in January (which I’m also signed up for) will suffer from the “same-ness” that the Avengers Super-Heroes Half Marathon did. I have a feeling that if I do continue running Disney races ($195 is a big chunk of change for a single race after all), one per year (probably Star Wars) will be more than enough.

Review of Lexus LaceUp Running Series - Riverside by tlujan

Thank you for a great event. It was close and convenient to where I live. Nice and easy 5k course. I felt that the check in was nice and easy. The staff was very friendly and was able to socialize with you. The only down fall was not enough photographers out on the course but I guess we can take our own pictures with our phones. The post race event was fun. I never have went to a beer garden in all the other races that I have done but I thought I would give a cheers to a great race on 12~13~14. I made history running with my husband on such a memorable day!!! I give all the thanks to you for making this event happen and I am more than willing to offer my time on next years series. Great job Team Lexus LaceUp!!!

Review of Lexus LaceUp Running Series - Ventura by tseng14

I ran the 10K and am definitely adding this to my annual race calendar. The course was beautiful! The volunteers and water stations were ample and smartly placed. This is a premium race just like they explain it is. The medals are awesome and you can even use it as a coaster! The party at the finish line was a blast - great food and beer for all.

Review of Orange County Turkey Trot by belindakcarter

Had a great run that day! The course was perfect, and easy to follow. It was super fun, and the swag was awesome. Pumpkin pie, and goodies to pick up afterwards 🙂

Review of Great Donut Run by lawiii

The most fun and delicious 5k ever!! This is a perfect event for the whole family, and a guaranteed good time will he had by all.

Review of Silverman 70.3 Ironman by RaceGrader

I can't give anything but straight "A"'s for this event. Ironman did a great job. PRE RACE: We made the decision to arrive on Friday to help avoid any stress. It was a great decision. We were able to check in around 6pm with no lines. That gave us the ability to be ahead of the crowds on Saturday. With this race, you are required to drop your run gear at T2 and bike at T1 the day before the race (although, you were able to access both transitions early on race day). Because we checked in Friday, we had our transitions set up my mid afternoon on Saturday and were able to relax the rest of the day. Ironman Village was a bit small but took place at the Henderson Pavillion. A great location for the finish line. RACE DAY: Ironman provided shuttles from T2 up to Lake Mead. We arrived around 5AM and did not have to wait in line. Because of the recent heat, there was a serious chance that wetsuits would not be allowed. But after measuring the temperature on race day at 75 degrees, wetsuits were declared legal for the event. A big relief for those that rely on the wetsuit for buoyancy! THE SWIM course was a basic triangle. Out, over, and back into the beach. There were numerous buoys for sighting and the water was clear. The most difficult part of the swim was the "convergence" of waves. It seemed like many people thought it was a bit crowded out there. Maybe they could move the waves to 4 minutes apart instead of 3? Also, it was tough to get a feel for the distance remaining on the swim back to the beach. I was sighting off a building on the beach that was at a much higher elevation than the water level. This gave the impression the beach was miles away. Not an event problem, but just something to consider for future athletes. Ironman did number the buoys. If I had known this, I would've been able to use them to determine how far was still remaining. Good reason to go to the pre-race meeting (I didn't attend). BIKE: Hills. I could pretty much stop right there. This bike course is brutally tough. There is very little relief from the climbs. I believe you climb over 4,200 feet with a net increase of nearly 2,700. Way more UP than DOWN. The bike course reminded me of the movie Ground Hog Day. Climb...climb...climb...down...climb...climb...climb...down...etc.. A good strategy is very important on this course. You can NOT just go out an hammer away at these hills. You'll have nothing left for the run (or the huge climb that awaits you at mile 54). It's very important to stay within your own pace and have a very good nutrition plan. Take a look at the number of people with DNF's for this event. I'm sure many of them were the people passing me as they powered up every hill. I would say this to summarize the bike course. First 10 miles are rolling hills (mostly climbing). The next 12 miles are very difficult. Basically all climbing with not much downhill relief. The next 12 miles are the reverse (these 12 miles are out and back). Although, the headwind made it difficult to really take full advantage of the net "downhill". At mile 42 there is a 2-3 mile climb. It's a serious grind from inside Lake Mead to the top of the hill by Lake Las Vegas entrance. From mile 42 to 52ish you are mostly down and flat. It seems like this is the time you'd make up some ground. But the race gods turned ugly and ruined those plans with a fairly decent headwind that taxed your legs even further. At mile 52 you encounter yet another big climb. I didn't hear much "chatter" on the course to that point. But when my fellow participants turned the corner to see this hill, many were cursing and calling for the course designers head! After climbing pretty much all day, you have to grind it out one last time from mile 52 pretty much all the way to the transition area. I finished the bike 45 minutes slower than my Half Ironman distance P.R. And I worked way harder! My bike time of 3:25 put me just above the 50 percentile in my age division. THE RUN: Did I mention it was hot? You don't really feel the heat until you put on those running shoes and started to go. Someone mentioned it may have reached 96 degrees in the afternoon. So again, nutrition is key! Fortunately Ironman did a great job with their aid stations. The course was a total of 3 loops and there were 4 aid stations. So 12 total chances to get "refreshed" on the 13.1 mile run. In most cases, loops tend to get a bit boring. But it's great for spectators. They can set up in the shade and see you run by the same point 6 times. The aid stations were fully stocked with ice (savior), water, propel, cola, chips, pretzels, oranges, banana's, gu's, etc.... it was basically a "much needed" buffet with enthusiastic volunteers. There were also a few "run through" mist systems on the course. And one was stationed with a guy hosing people down. That felt awesome!! Besides fighting the heat, this run course was HILLY. You think you had enough with the hills on the bike, but there really isn't any FLAT in Silverman. During the 4+mile loop, you go down 2 miles than up 2 miles. Repeat. Repeat. It's similar to running long intervals. If you grind out the "up" you can take advantage of the "down". Although with the demanding bike course and heat, I saw a ton of athletes walking or being sidelined with cramps/hamstring issues. POST RACE: Anyone that has done a long distance event knows you really feel brain dead after you cross the finish line. It's often times difficult to even function. Ironman had some great volunteers. As I crossed the line, someone became my personal escort. They took me to get my medal, remove my timing chip, grab my finishers hat, handed me an ice cold water, took me to get a finisher picture, then directed me to the athlete tent. It was a great service. Thank you to whoever you were helping me out! The athlete tent had a great setup with a full buffet of food and drinks. After cooling down, you pick up all your gear that was driven down by Ironman from Lake Mead. It was very organized and (again) staffed with great volunteers. Someone even had bagged my bike gear left on the ground at T2. First class all the way. OVERALL: I heard a few people saying this is the toughest course in America. Other's said they put out more effort on this course than they needed for a full Ironman. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but the course was more than just a challenge. It was VERY TOUGH. Proof were the number of people suffering on a course. But the with the great challenge, comes a great feeling of accomplishment. Knowing you can survive and finish an event like this gives you great confidence for any future challenges. Silverman was a great event and Ironman did a great job.

Review of Father Joe's Thanksgiving Day 5K by

For a race that is really a family friendly "do-good feel good" race -- they do a GREAT job of making sure all the expected race day quality is still there for safety, timing, organizing. Great blues band to listen to afterwards and YES order a pie from the Academy kitchens for your holiday meal. Agree that the start is chaotic. Keep working on separating the walkers and strollers from the runners -- but hey -- be Thankful you are healthy and out there on such a beautiful course.

Review of Lexus LaceUp Running Series - Riverside by kcass

Nice location, but parking lot was 3/4 mile away, so better to park on streets in neighborhood surrounding park. Published start time info was not accurate. Poor course markings for 10K, 5K seemed well marked. Nice shirt and participant medal, brunch trucks and beer garden were great. Packet pickup was too far away from race venue and very inconvenient for those in the areas south/west of Riverside.

Review of Southern California Half Marathon & 5K by chsfromca

Positives - Flat course, lots of on-course support (water stops and cheers), great post-race festival, free parking. Negatives - medal had wrong year printed on it and race has never said anything about it to date, no corralling system at start line leads to lots of walker dodging in the first part of the race, kinda boring course (lots of out-and-backs on commercial streets), bib pick up hard to find, poor event shirt - just a white cotton tshirt. I love SRLA kids. I think it is a great organization to get kids in the mindset of running and physcial fitness, but Bell stated it best in the 2013 review: "This is another run that some of the Students Runner’s training for the LA Marathon do and at times this can be a bit difficult as their running etiquette leaves a little to be desired." Adults supervising the SRLA kids - please get them to the back of the starting area.

Review of Arroyo Creek Half Marathon by RaceGrader

POSTED BY RL: I did the initial Camarillo Marathon a few years ago put together by Elite Racing and it was a total SNAFU - lack of Porto potties, lack of on course fluids, lack of on- course support.

Review of Orange County Turkey Trot by dawndiva

This has such potential to pull from Dana Point Turkey Trot crowd who want options closer to home with better parking BUT...starting 20 min late ruined most of the event. And then there was no announcement of the start that anyone could actually hear. Lots of pushing and shoving "I think the race just started". Suggest shutting down the "day of registration" at least 1 hour before the race. I know that the race needs to make money but causing hundreds of folks (who managed to figure out how to get registered before 5 min until event start) to wait while the late stragglers registered is not fair to all of us. We all have places to be also on the holiday. More porta johns will be needed. LIne was 30 deep by 7:30am. and got steadily worse- Suggest at least 4 more. I brought 20 runners this year to the OC Turkey Trot- we will all go back to Dana Point next year and I will discourage others from joining in the local race until the OC Turkey Trot can find a better and more organized flow. Too Bad! The race has such potential all wasted.

Review of Ironman Arizona by RaceGrader

Ironman Arizona 2014, Race Day Report, November 16, 2014, Tempe, Arizona (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js#xfbml=1"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk')); Post by Race Grader. My name is Judy Graham-Garcia. I am 54 years old and live with my boyfriend Adam in Ipswich, Massachusetts, a quintessential New England town about 30 miles north of Boston on Massachusetts’ beautiful North Shore, where I do most of my training. Our town is famous for Ipswich Fried Clams and Crane Beach/Crane Estate. I moved to northern New England from the deep South almost 10 years ago; I am originally from the small town of Belton, South Carolina, but had lived in Augusta, Georgia, for 15 years before I moved here. I have three grown children and two adorable grandsons. I love the sport of triathlon, but more than the actual races themselves (which I do enjoy), I love the training journey. Triathlon changed my live, I love the community of amazing people that I have met and befriended through this sport. I am proud to be an Ironman…again! Ironman Arizona (IMAZ) 2014 race morning, Adam (my Sherpa, my love, my ‘coach’ when I let him be) and I woke up at 4am. I was still sick but started feeling better on Saturday evening when my fever broke; I ran a very low grade fever for almost 24 hours. I never checked it but the advanced practice nurse in me knows it was there; my heart rate was elevated from normal about 30 beats per minute. My body was fighting it hard. What if I got sicker or still felt like this on Sunday morning, what in the world would I do? Only I can be sitting in the recliner on Friday afternoon, not even two days before the big race, and notice that I am congested---what the heck, then by 9pm be running a low grade fever. Probably viral---I know---but emergency Z-pack just in case (which is taboo, no antibiotics for viruses, but just in case…). Couldn’t breathe---nasal spray---medicine for fever. How in heck is this happening to me? I had been taking Emergen-C for two weeks to help prevent a cold---airplanes are petri dishes, and I am sure that I was immunocompromised from stress---the stress of traveling, and the stress of training, and the stress of the actual upcoming race itself. We were staying at Adam’s family’s vacation home in Scottsdale, Arizona, so we planned on leaving home at 445am to be in the parking garage at the race site by 5am. I had decided to wear my gray Coeur chevron kit; Coeur clothing is so very fashionable and comfortable, the chamois pads are perfect. I was disappointed that I could not wear my Kick Cancer Betty kit as I am a breast cancer survivor, and I have a friend undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer now---as well as other friends with various cancer issues, themselves or their families. I had lost almost 30 pounds since I bought that Betty kit, and the shorts just did not fit quite right anymore. I would still wear my pink Cancer Sucks socks on the bike, though! I pulled my gray B positive pants over my kit and put on my Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) Finisher’s (2011) jacket, my throw away socks, and my 2014 Boston Marathon Adidas flip flops that I love. I would be warm in this until the time came to don the wetsuit. Adam prepared my steel cut oatmeal and ONLY one cup of coffee---I needed to plan on minimizing bathroom breaks because I knew I would certainly have to stop, it is my history. He also made me three peanut butter and banana (PB&B) sandwiches---upon arrival to the race venue, I would place in my Bike Gear Bag to eat after the swim; the other two would go, one in each, in the Bike Special Needs Bag and the Run Special Needs Bag---these are bags that you drop off down by Tempe Town Lake (TTL) on race morning, and they end up at the halfway point of the run and on the return loop of the three loop bike course (and even though you pass the Bike Special Needs Bag more than once, supposedly you can access it only once). These are the bags in which you put anything you might need during your race---but do not include valuables, because there is no guarantee that these bags will be returned. This race morning, I also had prepared two Ziploc baggies of Honey Stinger Energy Chews (ONLY cola flavored) with a few salt/caffeine tabs added to the baggies, one baggie to put into my bike bento box (a small zipped box on the top tube of the bike frame) when I checked on Uga (my awesome ride) before the race, and the other in Bike Special Needs Bag to refill my bento box around the halfway point. I had everything but the kitchen sink in those two Special Needs Bags---extra socks, blister Band-Aids, Carmex lip ointment, Rolaids for my heartburn, Aquaphor ointment if my feet blistered, Tylenol, extra Electrolyte Fuel System (EFS) gel, handkerchiefs. I also had my Ironman issued Morning Clothes Bag that presently contained all of my swim gear---my sweet wetsuit that I adore, tinted Aqua Sphere Vista goggles [best things ever for open water swimming (OWS)], Aquaphor ointment for my underarms & neck; Carmex for my lips; one energy gel for 30 minutes before the swim; Rolaids for the last minute since I do have reflux and even though I took my Prilosec earlier, I can still get heartburn when I am horizontal in the water for 2.4 miles); ear plugs to help conserve body temperature during a cold swim and also to keep the lake water from aggravating me; throw away socks for my feet to stay warm until I entered the water; neoprene booties in case the water temperature was 65 degrees or less and I would be permitted to wear them; my neoprene swim cap with a strap; my Ironman issued swim cap; and my Timex Ironman watch on my right wrist. My race timing chip had been strapped to my left ankle since I picked it up on Thursday! Adam parked quickly and easily in the parking garage that was a block away from the US Airways parking garage. So many cars were waiting in line to enter the US Airways garge for race parking---he decided it would be better to walk the extra block than sit in the traffic. I could always jump out of the car and let him park if we were running late, but we were fine for time. I really had to go to the bathroom by this point, and any of my triathlon friends know that ‘I POOPED TODAY’ before a race is a great thing. I spotted three little blue houses by the finish line as we walked up to Ironman Village but two were still locked up; there was only one person in line for the open one so I waited. I went in, success, and then as I was preparing to get out of there, I heard a guard screaming at the other folks now waiting in line, Adam included, saying these potties were for the finish and were not open yet, that there were potties for us down in the race transition area. Whew---lucky for me---that was behind me, literally. I was set with the bathroom. Most everyone pees in their wetsuits---that I would do if the urge returned. I do NOT poop in my wetsuit as I have heard some folks do, I am not quite that competitive ---which is one reason I do not want to volunteer as a wetsuit stripper/peeler LOL just wear gloves like we do in the medical tent if you sign up for that job! When Adam and I arrived in Ironman Village, we parted company, with plans to meet up prior to the race start so that I could give him my phone. I first went to my Bike Gear Bag and added the PB&B sandwich so that I would have it in swim to bike transition (T1) following the swim. I knew that I would be hungry when I came out of that 2.4 mile swim, and I did not want to start a 112 mile bike ride hungry. Then I went to my awesome Uga in the transition area---I put the Ziploc bag of Honey Stingers and salt/caffeine tabs in my bento box (ensuring that the Ziploc bag was OPEN in the bento box so that I could reach in and just start eating---no time for opening bags on the bike!); double checked that my water bottles were still full (I had a new Torpedo bottle system on the aero bars and one frame cage with a bottle); then took Uga from her rack to have air added to her tires. For a moment, I was sorry that I did not have my own pump, but I was just too nervous to deal with borrowing one and inflating the tires myself. I knew where the Tribe Multisport Tent (plug here for Tribe---they rock! See them in Scottsdale for all of your race week bike needs!) was located in the transition area from the day before when I checked Uga in, so I went straight there for air---it was a lot less painful than I had imagined once I realized that I was in the line for mechanical issues rather than air and then got into the appropriate line. I returned Uga to her spot where she would wait until I picked her up following the swim, and then I needed to go to my Run Gear Bag and drop my eyeglasses off. I did not know if I would want my glasses on the run, but I wanted to have them just in case. Finally, it was time to go to body marking, don my swim gear, and drop my Morning Clothes Bag off in transition. Full distance Ironman races are a bit different than other triathlons in that you do not set up your transition areas for T1(swim to bike transition) and T2 (bike to run transition). When you come into transition, you have your bag waiting---you grab your respective gear bag and go to a changing tent. Next, I found the body markers and had 3213 written on my bilateral biceps and my age as of December 31, 2014, 54, written on my left calf. I should also add that I had my Cactus Buddies Facebook group temporary tattoos on my left bicep and my right calf; this is how we would identify each other out on the course. I then went to the wall by transition, found a place to park myself and my swim gear, which was still in my Morning Clothes Bag, and called Adam. He was able to make his way to the wall by me and I gave him my phone. No pictures, not even me. I listened for the water temperature announcement, and I knew then that I could not wear my neoprene booties since the temperature was 66 degrees; we had missed the 65 degree cutoff. I put on the bottom of my wetsuit, made sure my timing chip anklet was under the wetsuit on my left ankle (again, I had put it on my ankle on Thursday at Athlete Check In and had not removed it---definitely did not want to lose that!), then put my throw away socks back on. I applied the Aquaphor ointment heavily to my underarms and neck and pulled on my wetsuit. I love my Blue Seventy Reaction wetsuit. We have been through some crazy swims together. I made sure that the wetsuit was pulled up securely under my arms and that I had access to the zipper string on my right side; that string is there if you need to get out of the wetsuit. I put it under the Velcro closure at the nape of the neck so I knew right where it was. I had my Timex Ironman watch on my right wrist so that I could put my Garmin on the left when I transitioned for the bike. I set the Timex to the chrono mode so that I could time my swim. I then put Carmex all over my lips so that they would stay lubed for that long swim, and I put on my two swim caps. I put my goggles on top of my head and tucked my wax ear plugs under my sleeve so that I could hear announcements just until I jumped into the water. I always use a neoprene swim cap underneath my race issued swim cap as the cooler water temperatures can aggravate my right Trigeminal Neuralgia (irritates the facial nerve in my temporal/right forehead area and it can be very painful during a flare up); I was a little disappointed that the water temperature was only 66 degrees and not 65 or below as now I could not wear my booties. One of my friends thinks that the booties slow her down, but I love my neoprene booties, and I think that by keeping my lower extremities as warm as possible during a long cold swim, I do not cramp as badly in cold water. I tend to develop some wicked Charley horses during long distance cold open water swimming (OWS). (Don’t I sound like a New Englander??? Until I open my mouth---) I am so very thankful for the cold ocean water that is only four miles from our home (the temperature never increases over the high 60s), the ten buoys that are placed there from Memorial Day through Labor Day that provide me with excellent sighting experience, and the 20 dollars per year Ipswich resident pass to access beautiful Crane Beach!! I began my walk to the water after a goodbye kiss to my guy---no pictures again---yep, I know that is impossible for Judy not to take a picture---but I was nervous. Period. I must have cried a dozen different times. I now had full wetsuit over my Coeur kit, and I put my swim gear along with my sweats, jacket, and shoes into my Morning Clothes Bag so I would have warm clothes at the finish. It gets cold in the desert at night, and I knew that I would finish late---yes, finish---no time to think DNF (Did Not Finish). The Morning Clothes Bag drop off was easy to find right in transition; however, in retrospect, I could have saved myself some stress if I had known ahead of time exactly where it was located. I had given Adam the extra gear retrieval ticket which is issued at Athlete Check In, in case he got bored, he could put Uga in the car after 6pm when transition reopened for bike removal. I began my walk to jump into Tempe Town Lake (TTL) and swim to the start line, about 120 meters. I knew exactly where to go on the dock beside the Swim Medical Tent. I had been there on numerous occasions, working as a volunteer at swim medical, racing in my DNF year 2012, practice swims both race years, and simply exploring the venue. On my walk out of transition, I noticed an athlete ‘traffic jam’ and heard an announcement that the lake water level was low and, rather than jump into the lake from the dock, we would need to go to the stairs at the swim exit and enter from there. This was taking a little longer to get everyone into the water. I saw a sign in the spectator crowd that had Lindsay Jacobs name on it; the lady holding it looked like her; it must have been her mother. There was no time for hesitation getting into the water like there usually is when you enter from the dock. The stairs were crowded and once you got onto the stairs, you did not have the option of hanging out. I removed my throw away socks and tossed them up against the fence. My timing chip was in place under my wetsuit on my left ankle, I put in my ear plugs, double swim caps, strapped the neoprene swim cap across my chin---not my neck unless I wanted nasty blisters, goggles in place, and down the stairs I went. I jumped; it was cold. I swam off to the side, took some deep breaths, told myself to relax, and then began an easy swim out to the start just past the Mill Street bridges. The swim to the start was probably an extra 70 meters so not much at all, probably a total of 190 meters, just a little farther than the usual entry spot. I never saw my good friends Dan Maguire or Lindsey Jacobs that morning; I hoped that they were OK and actually I was a little happy that my nervous self was alone with about 2700 strangers other than my virtual friends, Dan, Lindsay, and a few participants I had met at Athlete Check In. I made the short swim to the start line, and wisely, decided to position myself about four sixths of the way back. I wanted out of the way of the fast folks but ahead of that last one six of the crowd that swims like I bike and run. So if you divided the swim start crowd into six parts, I was in part five out of six (I learned this strategy from a local Arizona coach). IMAZ is a mass swim start---a washing machine---you tread water once you reach the start line until the gun goes off---it is cold.---no, it is not---it could be---one year I worked in the swim medical tent and it was 59 degrees in the water---yep---in Arizona. You see, TTL is not a lake per se, it is a river, part of the Rio Salado (Salt River) with a rubber bladder, man-made, contained, the water is stagnant, non-flowing, and the air cools off a lot faster in the desert at night due to the low humidity---so the water cools off, too. I do not care if the afternoon high is 85 degrees---it is mid-November---and it gets cold at night, and it is an arid climate that I am not acclimated to---and the heat leaves the lake. For those triathletes that live locally or those that have the means to arrive in Tempe nine days before the race, 4 Peaks Racing hosts a swim on the Saturday morning eight days before the race. The longest distance available is 4000 meters which is a tad bit longer than the 2.4 mile Ironman swim distance but is perfect for a feel for TTL. Their swim course (Splash and Dash) is different than the IMAZ swim course, but it is the same cold murky lake! If the pH of the lake water reaches 9.0, the swim will be canceled because of the potential for, or actual, growth of blue-green algae. I reached the swim start probably ten minutes before the race began. I do not know what time it was and I was not going to look, I already had my watch on the chrono view, and I was not playing with it. It was ready to begin in timing mode when the swim started, so I would just have to tread water and wait patiently. There was a jet ski hovering right in front of me, and several folks were hanging on to it, rather than treading water. I was fine treading water, plus I had the added flotation from the wetsuit. I felt like the wait was much longer than it should have been. I remember looking back under the double bridges toward the stairs, and there were still a lot of pink and green caps waiting to enter the water. We must be starting late, but I never knew if we were or not, I never looked at my watch, and I would not learn until much later that night that we did in fact have a five minute delay; we began at 705am so the race would end at 1205am. This would become very important to my race later. The gun went off; the swim was on. It was a battlefield, and I was disturbed because I realized that I was a female in a green swim cap and not in pink like the other females!! Oh the things we tend to focus on in these races. I was hoping that World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) did not have my incorrect gender on my registration, I had already had registration issues and did not appear on the original bib list, and therefore I did not have my name on my bib. But my gender really did not matter anyway because I would never place in my age group, much less get a qualifying slot to Kona (any Ironman’s dream)---but the number of participants in each age group does affect Kona slot allocation, and I surely did not want to mess with that for anyone! I swam defensively---I always do in OWS events. I would not take anything for all of the experience I have gotten over the years by registering for every OWS that I can get myself into! We are very fortunate in New England to have so many choices. OWS is nothing like swimming in the lane of a pool. And TTL is not a difficult sighting venue if you have experience---until---the sun rises. The swim goes about a mile east and up the lake---wear tinted goggles---they definitely help. And follow the crowd. My goggles did great in the swim---no leaks, no pressure points---swim caps were fine. I had my neoprene strap across my chin, not my neck, so no rubbing---and I just swam, and swam---bilateral breathing, every third stroke, minimal kicking, into the sun. I spotted the left red turn buoy at about the one mile point, and left I went. There are yellow sighting buoys periodically all the way to the first red turn buoy; the course is very well marked. Left I went at the turn, the swim still crowded, everyone bunching up at the turns. I was face down and feeling for bodies with my hands---watching for bubbles as I could not see anything in this water anyway. I got punched, kicked, hit, and scratched. (Ladies & gents, be nice to your fellow triathletes and trim your nails!), swam over, pushed under, but not too badly because I fight back. A couple of times, I just literally had to swim away from annoying people---anyway, I made the left turn to head back west in the lake for the final long one mile or so stretch (the shape of the swim is a rectangle), and I swam, and swam. I was probably at about the 1.5 mile distance when I noticed how rough the water still was. I was perplexed and this becomes important later---but I observed that the crowd had thinned out---the faster folks were long gone, the slower ones were behind---there were not enough swimmers around me to make the water this rough??? I felt like I was in a choppy ocean swim---which I love---but it definitely slows me down. The Ironman swim cut off time is 920am (WTC imposes several cuts that you have to make by certain times throughout the day to continue). I have never really worried about making that swim cutoff---what I was most concerned about in this swim, or any long cold swim, was the potential for leg cramps to occur, especially at the last turn, and, the exit---the IMAZ swim exit deserves special attention. You have to climb up those metal stairs---the ones we went down earlier today to get into the lake for the swim start. It is an ordeal---at least in my mind---and now even more so with the low water level. The bottom step is up out of the water. So you have to pull yourself up onto the step. This is where I say thank goodness for three things. First, the swim clinic, sponsored by wannatri coaching, which was held prior to the 4000m OWS that I attended eight days before IMAZ---there, I learned that if I start kicking at the final turn buoy with about a tenth or so of a mile left, it will help get the blood flowing back through my legs that are vasoconstricted from the cold water and compression of the wetsuit. Second, the practice swim the day before the race---that is where I learned to pull myself up by the rail as I exited and put my butt on the bottom step, spin around, and pull myself to a stand. (I was sorely disappointed eight days earlier when I realized that the 4000m swim was on the opposite side of the lake, and I could not practice the stair exit. I guess I should read the ‘race details’ section more closely when I register for an event!!) Third, Volunteers---you just cannot say it enough---IMAZ volunteers ROCK! They are positioned on the stairs, several of them---once I had my butt on the bottom step; they pulled me right up and out! I almost cramped, as I usually do, but it was very mild---I got my bearings and land legs back on, and continued (2.4 miles is a long time to be horizontal and then to start running to my bike); I also was cold. I looked at the clock and the time was 1 hour 35 minutes 44 seconds, wow, I’ll take that, sort of where I was hoping to be, and definitely better than I expected in the rough conditions of today---AND, the amazing Mike Reilly gave me a shout out when I exited the water!! Thank goodness for wet suit strippers…as I ran from the stairs I had my arms and torso out of the wetsuit; I then chose one of the most distant (from the stairs) peelers and sat down very carefully, paying special attention not to fall out, for them to pull my legs out---I once fell flat on my butt and herniated my L5-S1 disc---I can’t do that again!! Wetsuit off---vertical again---made a special note that my timing chip was still on my left ankle and did not come off with my wetsuit---that is why I put it on under the wetsuit---had my wetsuit over my arm (in love with my wetsuit almost as much as my bike Uga!), swim caps and goggles in my hand, lost the ear plugs and did not care, and off running I went to grab my T1 Bike Gear Bag---it iss a ‘long run’, expect your T1 time to be doubled---and there was Adam standing up against the rail as I ran past!! As I ran into the Bike Gear Bag area, I was screaming out my race number to the volunteers, and by the time I entered the Bike Gear Bag area, there was my bag---I took it from the volunteer and headed toward the Women’s Changing Tent---it was the second tent just past the Men’s Changing Tent---do not go into the wrong tent---lots of naked bodies---LOL! As I approached the tent, I ran into the pottie, then came out and sat in a chair outside the tent---I did not need to go inside the tent to change since I would continue the bike race in my Coeur kit that I had put on at home earlier and wore underneath my wetsuit. As I sat outside in a chair, an awesome volunteer helped me put on my black shrug---maybe this wasted a little time, I do not know, arm warmers would have been faster but I wanted my shoulders covered too, it was cold out of the water, and I felt like I needed this for the first bike loop (first out of three loops, about 37 miles). It is just hard to get clothes on a wet body, even after I had dried them off a little with my Ariel towel that was in my bag. I got the shrug on my left arm, threaded it under my shoulder straps, then right arm. Then I turned on my Garmin so it would detect satellites and put it on my left wrist, I turned the right wrist Timex Ironman watch to time of day mode. Pink Cancer Sucks socks on each foot and bike shoes; liquid EFS gel in my pocket; solid orange, of course, Bondiband (another brand devotion) on my head, helmet, sunglasses; pink Betty sweat band on my wrist to wipe my nose (regardless of what the fellow says about them slowing you down and being extra weight---whatever!!); cycling gloves, yep I’m a nerd---and throw away gloves over those. I was dressed perfectly and quickly enough, I then ate a half of my PB&B sandwich, drank a bottle of water, and off I I had to run through the changing tent to get to the exit for bike transition, shouted out my number so that the volunteer could grab my sweet Uga, ran her to the Bike Mount line, T1 time was 10 minutes 40 seconds, though I did not know that at the time, I just knew that it was about 851am and Uga and I were off on a three loop, 112 mile bike ride, through the desert, and I was thrilled to be on Uga before 9am, out in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, a course I was fortunately familiar with---and NOT ‘flat and fast’, as some folks like to say! (Don’t let me hear you say that, it could be dangerous!) The ride out of Tempe is about seven or so miles until you hit the Beeline Highway; once you make that turn onto the Beeline, you climb gradually for eleven miles to the turn around and head back down to complete one loop. The last four of that out portion of the loop prior to the turnaround of each loop is a small grind. The ‘flat’ course actually has a total elevation gain of 2577 feet for all three loops combined. As I headed out from transition on Uga, I was so excited, I failed to notice something very important---WIND---crazy wind---now it makes sense---rough lake water---it was all adding up---I had not checked the weather forecast---at all---since Wednesday. I heard an announcement at Thursday’s mandatory Athlete Meeting that I attended (the first of three that you can choose from, there were two more on Friday) that the weather for race day looked perfect with no wind. I just took that for granted. I was just thinking how thankful I was that the air temperature was cooling off; 85 degrees would have been hot for cycling in the afternoon when the sun is at peak, I do not care how dry and non-humid it is!! What I did NOT know was that along with the temperature drop in the desert down in the valley comes---the dreaded desert crosswinds! As I headed out onto the bike ride, I saw Diane Jackson sitting alongside the road watching the race and that distracted me for a minute; but after I went on for a few miles and made the turn onto Alma School Road, only six or seven miles into the course, a pancake flat leg, and my speed was only 10mph---seriously??? How could this be? Where did this wind come from? I started thinking---Adam and I had not even discussed the weather. I had avoided my Cactus Buddies group since earlier in the week because the race chatter was stressing me out. And even though I had met up with them Saturday morning before the practice swim for a group picture, I did not hear any weather discussions. Weather---me the weather stalker, for any race I do---ignorance is bliss---how did this happen? And what did it matter anyway that I did not know to expect the wind?? It did not matter---I turned onto McDowell Road and the wind force decreased---good---maybe it is just that one road. HAHA fat chance---then I was on the infamous Beeline Highway---wind in my face---bad wind---all the way to the turnaround in Fountain Hills---10mph---dig in---hard to eat and drink---last four miles out, grind---8mph---really? How could this be after I had gotten so strong training on the Computrainer? I only hoped I could make up this time on the return---since it is a descent. The return was fast---crazy fast---30+mph---wind bouncing poor Uga around---could not stay aero---afraid---held onto handle bars for dear life---no eating and drinking---but I finished the first lap in one piece---getting warm now---need to take off shrug---will stop at the bike aid station that is on the way out on each loop. I saw Adam as I was coming in on loop one and screamed out that the wind is horrible---he replied, what wind?!?! (I later learned that his reply was actually, It is a Northwest wind---however, as I soon would learn, that wind would only become worse as it moved from the Northwest to the Northeast). I saw Aaron from Tribe at their mechanic tent at the turnaround and yelled hi to him. Then back out on the second loop. Same wind---shucks---only worse---yep---worse---is that possible??? Why yes, it is happening---brutal---stopped at mile 40ish aid station and voided, removed shrug, filled water bottles (the volunteers did), talked briefly to volunteers---two young girls wanted to know how old I was LOL then off into the wind I went! Second loop---gradual climb going out the Beeline---shoot me---running nose---Uga jumping---giving it my all---wiping my nose on my wrist sweat (to the guy who said it adds extra weight POO POO I need to wipe my snotty nose). On every loop, there was a smell---it smelled like potties. It was after the aid station so I knew it was not our potties. It soon occurred to me that it was the landfill where I had flatted last weekend; the wind was blowing so hard that it was blowing all the stink around from the landfill! I continued pushing hard through the wind up the climb, got to make it back down to begin the third bike loop by 3pm---Ironman rule---no exceptions, not even by one second---go Uga go---do not want to get pulled from the course---plenty of time---I think---maybe ---yes---I will make it up on the return leg. Finally, at the crest for the turnaround---mile 56---halfway there---wondering if my friends that are tracking me will realize that I am really faster than doubling the first half time would indicate, as the first half consists of two climbs going out and one returning descent whereas the second half consists of two returning descents and one climb going out the Beeline---very good for me to know that the second half will be faster---boom! I was still able to do math---second return---wind completely out of control---totally afraid to let go of handle bars---decided to stop at Bike Special Needs, void, drink and eat half of my PB&B sandwich. That is where I met some awesome folks! They were amazing there at the Bike Special Needs station, and my bag was at the far end. As I approached, I shouted out my race number, the volunteers called it out down the line and boom, there was the bag, and the sweetest ladies (who I later found on Facebook!!!!) who had my bag ready, helped me with my sandwich, took my picture eating my sandwich with one of them, and told me that they had accidentally called out my number beforehand and had been waiting for number 3213 HAHA!! I whined about the wind, and off I went again on this crazy descent. I finished the second loop in plenty of time to beat the 3pm cutoff for the bike---I think it was around 230pm or so, and then back out into that darn headwind I went again for my third and final loop. I was so over it, I just prayed that I could make it to the Fountain Hills turnaround by the next cut/course sweep of 415pm. I stopped at the same bike aid station where I had removed the shrug on the second loop (close to mile 80 now), saw Lindsey Jacobs but could not give her a hug as I dared not lose my place in the pottie line---refilled my bottles---did not see the girls again that were curious about the old lady’s age at my last stop, they must have ‘changed shifts’ LOL---and back into the wind…just ready to hit that turnaround at the top of the Beeline. Somewhere along this stretch, another Cactus Buddy came up beside me and cycled along with me for a few minutes; she told me that the wind had been predicted by a meteorologist that belongs to our group---information that I missed by staying off of Facebook group for a few days, probably for the better. It is also at this point in the race where you start seeing the same people for many miles---all of us were doing the same pace, exhausted from the winds, and passing each other back and forth. It gets very aggravating at times. I made it up to the turnaround at 355pm, 20 minutes to spare before that 415pm cutoff---and now, my next point of concern per Ironman rules, I needed to be off the bike by 530pm. I have got this---unless I crash---unless I flat---unless a dog gets me---unless unless unless. There were flats everywhere I looked---folks---there are cacti in the desert---quills blow---onto the roads---and they were really blowing on this day in this crazy wind. Get Gatorskin tires and inject sealant into your tires---invest the extra money---you have already invested a small fortune to get to this point, so why not??? What I remember most about my final descent---other than the crazy fast speed and the wind, was the large number of cyclists climbing the Beeline up their third loop that could not possibly make the 415pm time cut---made me sad---very sad---it was a lot of people---trucks waiting to pick up the bikes---police picking up cones---preparing to open roads back up---boohoo---but I should be OK on this leg---SHOULD! Finally, I was back in before 5pm---boom---now, I had seven hours left to change clothes and run/walk a marathon---I got this! I hope---but lots can happen over a 26.2 mile run/walk after a long day of swimming and cycling. So do not get too overconfident at this early point. Nutrition plan was dead on my goal---I felt good---a little tired from being beat by the wind but pretty good! Now, I just needed to make the run cutoff points---Ironman rules include a midnight race cutoff---period---not one second over---17 hours is the maximum time allowed, and the race is over. I was back in bike to run transition (T2) by 5pm, (my total bike split was eight hours seven minutes 30 seconds, which I did not know at this time) simply thrilled that I had 7 hours remaining to change clothes and complete the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. I took a Celebrex; yes I did; it was 100 mg and I had taken one in the morning; the maximum daily dosage is 200 mg. I was fine; just wanted to do anything I could to prevent any potential inflammation. I decided to remove my Coeur kit bottoms and put on my Mimosa Sparkle Skirt. Sparkle Skirts had pulled me through a lot of marathons in the past couple of years, so I was certain that the time lost in changing into a Sparkle Skirt would be worth the comfort gained by having on fresh bottoms! I left the Coeur kit top on, grabbed my long sleeve Clemson Tiger Paw shirt and tied it around my waist; donned my running shoes, that of course still had the four charms and two wings that Adam had determined to be of negligible weight (you HAVE to know my boyfriend!), grabbed my Bondiband, IMAZ visor, Tylenol, Carmex, Clinique orange lipstick, yes, true story, at every race, usually in my bra, but this time in my pocket; Aquaphor, Rolaids, orange handkerchief, eyeglasses, and off I went. Oh, and I had a super sweet volunteer who helped me change in T2; she was amazing. I wish I knew who she was! I did not care about my Garmin anymore---I do not know why I did not take it off---I never looked at it once on the run---it just aggravated me, and I almost threw it down on the ground. It was not accurate on the bike. I did, however, care very much about my little Timex Ironman watch with the interval timer. This brand/style watch was my first running watch ever when I started ‘Gallowaying’ back in 2003. I trained for my first marathon ever with former Olympian Jeff Galloway’s program in Augusta, Georgia. I had my watch set for the marathon leg on run:walk intervals of 4:1---Jeff would tell me that, based on my pace, and the fact that I just rode my bike 112 miles, this is too much running. I probably should have been at 1:1---but I did not want all of the starting and stopping, it gets to be tough on my knees, hips, and back. I did most of my marathons at 4:1 so that was the pace that was in my brain, though. And anyone that has ever done an Ironman understands the significance of the mental component. I headed out on the run, and how well I know that there is a lot of concrete on this run. It is a two loop course around TTL, and a lot of it is on sidewalks. There are several places where the terrain changes and you run onto dirt and asphalt, but there is a lot of concrete. And concrete is hard---pounding on concrete generates a lot of forces through your bones, muscles, and joints, and especially through your spine. This was my only concern about making a revenge attempt at this particular Ironman---not the distances involved, but the impact of the concrete on my back. There were a lot of spectators when I headed out on the run; it was about 5.06pm; I think I saw Jeff from Tribe as I headed out of transition. As I began my long trek around the lake into the sunset, I was so happy---off my amazing bike, folks everywhere cheering us on, and out to the concrete I went. I do not know why, but I was surprised to see the Run Special Needs station very soon into the run. The run is a two loop course around TTL, & I knew it would be located about halfway; so it made sense I guess that this was where it should be located, but at that point I was like whatever, I did not really want my sandwich yet. Who knows why I was so confused about seeing it there within the first mile; I had been out there for a long time. I felt like my nutrition was still dead on, and there would be a lot of nutrition on the run course at every mile. I had my EFS liquid shots on me, and other than feeling a little thirsty, which I know is an important cue/indicator, or maybe even symptom, I felt good. After a couple of miles, running with 4:1, I noticed that my neck and shoulders were really sore from the bike. That was a rough bike ride; the wind beat me up. Even with all of my wind training---my hands were tired of white knuckling the handle bars---sort of like driving a car in a Boston blizzard or South Carolina thunderstorm. My eyeglasses were annoying me, so I took them off and put them into my front zipper pocket. I also saw Adam somewhere in this early stretch, at about mile three to four; I really do not remember where, I just remember that he had his camera in selfie video mode and he held it up and told me to say something and I was like hey to my friends, kiddos, not really sure what I said, but I just remember I wanted to get going, and I wanted him to go find a bar and watch football. The Patriots were playing the Colts at 630pm AZ time, and Adam is a very passionate Pats fan; there are some really cool restaurants and bars along Mill Avenue across from Ironman Village, so I knew he could find a sweet spot to chill. That is a plus about having this Ironman right by the Arizona State University campus! At this point, I did not know, of course, that I would not see Adam again until the finish line, but it was probably best, because even though I was nice to everyone that encouraged me along the way, I may have been a spitfire with my boyfriend in the latter miles---funny how we do that with those who love us most!! I decided to change my interval timer on my Timex Ironman watch to 2:1---this 4:1 wasn’t working; I was walking every hill/incline, geez they seemed like mountains, and they were not big hills. The volunteers at the aid stations were amazing; I saw the Super Heroes station where Adam and I had volunteered in 2013. One of the Mesa, Arizona, bike shops had a bacon station; I love bacon but I passed it by---it did, however, bring sweet memories of my Endurance Sports Connection friends which kept my mind occupied for a few minutes. Many of them were in Las Vegas running the marathon or half marathon at the same time that I was now out here running. By this time the sun set and it was dark and, of course, without the sun, the desert starts cooling. I guess I was colder than I realized, but I didn’t put on my long sleeved shirt yet. I got a lot of compliments on my Sparkle Skirt. The Tylenol pills were shaking in the container and one girl told me I had sparkles and jingles. I couldn’t respond LOL! I also had a headache---not a dehydration type headache but I felt like my headband and visor were squeezing my head. First I removed the visor and hung it on my race number belt; then I also took off the headband and stuffed it in my pocket---another plug for Sparkle Skirts---pockets for days, and the shorts do not slip. My hair was everywhere, but I had an elastic hairband around my wrist, so I pulled it back. I decided I would put the visor on within the last mile of my run so that I would have it on for the finish. The run aid stations were all well stocked with water, electrolyte drink, potato chips, pretzels, cola, chicken broth, gel, gel chews, fruits, and who knows what else. I took random stuff; I figured if my primary fuel on most of my long bike rides had been a lobster roll, then what could it hurt! I had my own gel; I mostly took their water, electrolyte drink, and cola. I think I only had chicken broth once when I got cold. I love cola at this point in a long day/race. I had my own salt tabs too, with caffeine. I did not know if I needed them. BASE salt tabs had a booth on the course; they rock!; but I was not sure if I should take theirs since I had my own, so I passed them by. But one of their guys did walk quite a ways with me on the second loop and for that, I am forever grateful. There are amazing people in this world and triathlon community; he is one of them. Miles ten and eleven were especially emotional for me because that is the point where I developed chest pain after becoming severely dehydrated and had to drop out of this event two years ago. I had made it past the devil; I could do this. I made it to the halfway point; I needed to be starting the second loop by 9pm, and I was fine. It was about 830pm. The next checkpoint was at the twenty mile marker by 1030pm, so I needed to cover 6.9 miles within a couple of hours. Unless I croaked, or developed cardiac issues, this would be manageable. I stopped at Run Special Needs, shouted out my number and that the bag had Clemson Tiger Duck Tape wrapped around it, and right away, the volunteers had my bag---smart way to tag your bag and make it easily identifiable among almost 2700 black bags! I grabbed half of my PB&B sandwich, and off I went. I did not need anything else in the bag. No blisters at all, I could not believe it. I continued on from those awesome volunteers, 13.1 miles to go---I could do it---how many times have I ran 13.1 miles. I just hit my 100 lifetime half marathons mark in September at the Pumpkinman Triathlon Festival Half Ironman, which, by the way, is an amazing local (to New England) event in Southern Maine directed by an Ironman triathlete, Kat Donatello, who also raced at Ironman Arizona this year! And I had just ran my fifty-fifth marathon/ultra this year, too, I’ve got this---but I could hear my sweet Daddy saying to me, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.” (we were part-time egg farmers back in the day!) I continued on after the halfway point with my half sandwich. It was good. I was hungry. I also noticed that now, rather than my shoulders and neck bothering me, I was getting lower back discomfort. I knew exactly what it was---it was the arthritis I have in my lumbar region in my facet joints. I know that pain. I know when it becomes inflamed. And it was beginning to bother me---a little---but this is not new for me. I took two Tylenols---probably like spitting in the ocean, but I took them. I could not take any more anti-inflammatories---I already had taken 200 mg Celebrex today, and I certainly did not want to blow out my kidneys or even further increase my already present risk of hyponatremia that is there simply because I am slow. This happens, sometimes my back bothers me, I have not had my back injected in over a year, and I have been stable, doing fine since a fall on my rear in 2010 that really threw me for a loop. Then, the next thing that really jumps out at me along my journey was mile sixteen. Somewhere around mile sixteen, I saw myself in a shadow under a street lamp, and I looked a little tilted to the left. Denial is a wonderful ego defense mechanism because my internal response to my shadow was, no you are not tilted, and it is just the angle of the light on my shadow. Ok, on I went. Got to get to mile twenty by 1030. I got this---I made it, I think around 1015. After mile twenty, I knew I was uncomfortable, but how many 10Ks have I ran, I will get it done. And I kept going. And I kept getting a little more uncomfortable. But not too bad, no symptoms other than arthritic discomfort and yes, I had a muscle spasm in my back. It was controllable. Mile twenty-three at 11.01pm, just a little over a 5K left---some guy came up to me and told me what pace I needed to maintain to finish, I think he said nineteen minutes per mile, but who knows. It was also around this time that I heard from someone on the course that the official finish time will be 1205 am since the race did not start until 705am because of the delay starting the swim with the low water level. I will say here that I have a prescription for a muscle relaxer, baclofen. But I only use them for extreme situations if I know my back is beginning to spasm. I have not taken one in a while. I never have run with them. They alter my mentation and make me very sleepy; I can only take one at bedtime---so no, I did not have them on me while I was running. It never dawned on me to take them with me. Well, all I can say was from mile twenty-three to twenty-four, my spasms got worse---and by mile twenty-five, I literally had to push with my spasmed muscles on the left to try and straighten up toward the right and keep moving. I was walking a lot. I had to void but knew I could not stop at a pottie again. I had probably already stopped three times on the run but very quick stops; the last stop, I was in such a hurry I peed all over my pretty Sparkle Skirt. I love running in the cold dark with a wet urine smelling skirt. I will just say that at this point, mile 25, was the first point in the entire race where DNF entered my mind---the real and very probable possibility. I decided that I would not enter the finisher’s chute if I could not finish. I did not want a medal for almost finishing. Finishing an Ironman meant finishing sub seventeen hours, and that was the only way I would cross that finish line and accept anything. I really could not believe that this was happening to me after such a long, tough day out there. I cannot mention every person I encountered during these last two miles, many of them have found me on Facebook from the videos and our most amazing Cactus Buddies group, but what stands out was---there was a girl, I think in a purple shirt. She walked with me awhile---I was ‘running’---her walk was faster. I remember thinking a couple of times that I wished she would be quiet---but in retrospect, she knew I was in danger of not finishing. She was relentless---she kept on with me---maybe at least for a half mile. She told me, I have to leave you to go check on my athlete who is just ahead of you, but I will come back and check on you. I never saw her again, but that is OK, what she did for me in those few minutes is immeasurable. Then there was a man---I remember leaning over on him---I could not go on, and then I asked him to leave. I was maintaining my forward movement, but at this point, was so close, yet so far away, because of my back spasms. So on I went, at this point, very, very crooked. The spasm was uncontrollable and I could not maintain my pace, and I was within a half mile of finishing. I do not think I have ever looked at my watch so much, but I did not know where my watch time was in relation to the official Ironman clock---was it off by two minutes, one minute??. I took the time to put my visor on but never put on my lipstick---imagine that, me?!? Then there was the guy following me down the road in his truck. He was to my right in the open lane. He thought I was going to croak. I must have been a crazy sight. Then there was the four minutes remaining on the clock guy. I know now who he is. He was in my face---tough & stern---he may have been the one who told me I was going to DNF if I did not do something to keep going. And then there was the two minutes left on the clock guy(s)?---I think that may have been the timers that you see running in at the start of my finish line video. They were screaming at me to go. Somebody was with me---I have no idea who it was---and the next thing I remember is whoever this person was walking with me said, I have to leave you now but you are in the finisher’s chute, and Mike Reilly is coming to get you! And I rounded the corner and thought about where Adam was and if he was seeing all of this craziness and how glad I was that he had not been out on the run course. And lights, blinded by lights, and music---loud, and lots of people banging things on the chute, and there was Mike Reilly, saying my name and age, and he took my arm and told me I had 45 seconds. I just remember looking up at the clock, like wow---this is too crazy, and a lady ran up to me, at the time I did not even know it was Meredith Kessler who had earlier won the Ironman female race. And then I was finished, and Mike Reilly leaned over to my crooked level as I was ready to go down to the left, and he said, Judy Graham-Garcia, You Are An Ironman! And the lady put the medal around my neck. And I heard a guy say we are medical, and he took my left side from Mike Reilly, and they wrapped me in Mylar blankets. I was done, I had made it by twelve seconds, I was the LAST OFFICIAL FINISHER. And then I saw Adam---he had been at the finish, he ran around to me. I was in a wheelchair with three medical guys. The one that helped me get my official finisher photograph also found me on Facebook. I wanted that picture; he asked me if I wanted the picture and I was like duh heck yeah!!! LOL! Anyone who knows me knows that I love my pictures. They pushed me in the wheelchair to the photography backdrop and helped me up; one of the guys had my left side and he stood me there, still holding me, and I said just be in the photo with me, he said no it is your picture. He said get in place and brace yourself for the picture and I am going to move away quickly and you will be standing on your own. He asked the photographer to be ready to snap. I stood there, slightly tilted, and I heard click, click, click. I just remember seeing Adam and the look on his face, disbelief with the entire situation, like the deer in the headlights look. I sat back in the wheelchair, already feeling better. The medical guys insisted on going by the finish line medical tent and I said fine, my friend Dr. Dave Carfagno is the medical director, and I would love to see him and let him know I finished---last. We took some pictures and talked briefly about my back; I just wanted to go home, and I knew I had muscle relaxers at home. Adam pushed me to the car, and we returned the wheelchair on our way out. By the time we got back to the condo in Scottsdale, I was able to stand myself up out of the car and go in and shower. We were back ‘home’ in about 50 minutes after I finished the race. Adam had already picked up Uga and my gear bags, and they were packed in the car when I finished. I probably should have eaten more when I got home, but I did not have a huge appetite. I just wanted to drink fluids and had already drank chocolate milk. It was all over, I had reached my goal. Sweet redemption. I was an Ironman X2! The morning after Ironman was a whirlwind. I found out very early from one of my daughters that my friend Lisa Rohr had posted an amazing finish line video that she had pulled from livestream. There were other videos out there. A lot of East Coast family and friends that fell asleep before I finished saw the videos. A lot of my East Coast friends were awake when I finished, whether retired, insomnia or nursing babies, there were a lot of middle of the night congratulatory remarks on my Facebook page! I was overwhelmed with all of the support, it was amazing, but all I wanted to do was get down to Ironman Village and buy an Ironman Arizona Finisher’s Jacket and find out if I could retrieve my Bike Special Needs and Run Special Needs bags---those are the two bags without guaranteed return, so I was careful not to include anything that I was unable to part with. However, I did have some socks; blister Band-Aids, and other items that if I could get back, would be great. Adam loves seeing the awards ceremony and Ironman Kona slot allocations for the most talented athletes, so we walked down to the awards ceremony. Lo and behold, there I was, on the video jumbotron, crossing the finish line, crooked, with Mike Reilly and Meredith Kessler. Mike Reilly, of course, as emcee of this Monday morning awards ceremony, announced that his voice was suffering on this post-race morning because of all of the ‘You Are An Ironman’ chants to the finishers, but especially to the last two ladies that he was screaming at---I said, that was me! I spoke with him after the ceremony and offered my most sincere, heartfelt appreciation for his support of me at the finish line, then had my picture taken with him. It truly was a defining moment in my life. Adam and I found my two Special Needs Bags; the second halves of the PB&B sandwiches were still in there LOL! Better to have and not need it than to need it and not have it. We waited in line to get into the merchandise tent. And there were no finisher jackets left, but I did learn that more were ordered. But just in case, I bought a very pretty purple finisher’s fleece that would be perfect to wear to the Purple Out Military Appreciation Day Clemson Football game on Saturday!!! Everyone who knows me well, or not so well, knows that I love Clemson. I LOVE CLEMSON---everything about it---but especially, as much as I hate to admit it, Tiger football. I graduated from Clemson---in 1988, the 10 year plan---yep---they gave me a second chance---after I dropped out in 1982 (the year I should have graduated), they let me return in 1986 with my first two children, one and two years old. And I graduated. Sort of like Ironman Arizona---back this year for unfinished business from two years ago---and I finished---I worked hard to finish at Clemson and at Ironman, and I love them both. So, what else could I have possibly crossed the Ironman Arizona finish line wearing, other than orange, and my Clemson Tiger Paw shirt?!?! Finishing an Ironman triathlon was a dream come true for me in 2011 at Lake Placid. I love seeing motivated triathletes take on this challenge. It is a huge commitment---temporally, financially, physically, and mentally. I wish that all of my friends who have this dream achieve it---but respect the distance. Do not minimize the effort that it takes to make it 140.6 miles within seventeen hours. Make sure you have the full support of your family members; relationships can and will suffer if this understanding is not up front and supported. If you train properly, you will miss social activities, training will probably become your lifestyle. But what a reward finishing an Ironman is, and not just the finish, but the entire journey! I guess the only other thing I should add is that I have decided that it is best if I put this distance behind me and be happy with two finishes. I do not ever want to go through another DNF again. Every year since 2012, I have entered the Kona lottery. I have spoken at length with Adam about what I will do in March 2015 if my name is selected in the drawing. I decided a few days ago that I think I will email World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) and ask them to remove my name from the lottery. The 70.3 distance a couple of times a year, and Olympic distance, is good for me; that is where I need to focus and improve. I had often hoped along my training journey that I could keep this up and get stronger and do an Ironman in a new age group. I thought about doing Ironman Maryland next year. But that is OK, I am happy, I did what I never in my life ten years ago would have thought possible. I am an Ironman. Times two. And, I am a Final Official Finisher, too!

Review of Santa Monica RunFest by Scott Devine

In the City of Angels, people are known for changing their name (aka "rebranding") all of the time. Archibald Leach became Cary Grant. Sean Combs went from Puff Daddy to P. Diddy. And Prince became "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince" (yup, for a while his name was symbol) and then thankfully finally went back to Prince. Well, having undergone an identity shift, the 8-year-old Santa Monica 5000 re-emerged this past Sunday as the newly christened Santa Monica RunFEST. I'm happy to say that even with the name change, the race retained its charm. With a myriad of distances to choose from: a 10K, 5K, untimed 5K "retro themed run," and a family friendly 3K, around 2000 people laced up their running shoes for some seaside scampering. This year I ran the 10K for the third time and joined 545 other finishers for a fun 6.2 mile jaunt through Santa Monica. REGISTRATION/PACKET PICK-UP Registration fees for the race were rather reasonable, with the 10K costing between $40-$50 (depending on when you sign up) and numerous discounts were available online. And with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, I felt fine with opening up my wallet to support the cause. Packet pick-up was on Saturday afternoon, located near the Civic Center in Santa Monica and the expo doubled as the "Wellbeing Festival" sponsored by the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. In addition to getting my shirt, bib and swag bag, I also got to peruse some non-running related vendors and picked up some nice free "first aid" supplies from the Red Cross (thanks). Parking was reasonable for the expo as the parking lot gave you the first half hour free. It seems I was there for exactly 31 minutes and ended up paying a whole dollar. Runners could also pick up their bibs/shirts on race day, but the swag bag was only for people showing up at the Wellbeing Festival. TRANSPORTATION/PARKING Plenty of parking is available around Santa Monica for the racers. You had the choice of parking near the start of the race with beachside parking (expect to spend $10) or you could choose to park at one of the many structures near the finish line. I myself chose a structure right by the 3rd St. Promenade and ended up getting it for free. Not too shabby. T-SHIRT/MEDALS/SWAG The Santa Monica 5000 typically gave runners a cotton participation shirt and that trend continues with RunFEST. This year's shirt was green in color, featured a simple yet effective logo and was identical for both the 10K and 5K runners. Retro race runners did get an appropriate retro shirt. RunFEST did start a new tradition by giving all of the finishers a medal to celebrate their achievement. While runners got the same medal regardless of the distance run, it was a decent medal and a nice bit of bling to add to the collection. The race did give out another bit of swag in their bags (the Sketchers cinch sack also doubles as a basic backpack) as each runner received a running visor courtesy of race sponsor 2XU. Very nice. COURSE RunFEST features a point-to-point/out & back combo course. The 10K race starts near the intersection of Barnard Way and Ocean Park Blvd. and then loops north, heading up Ocean Avenue before turning onto San Vicente Blvd. At the mile 4 mark, runners turn around again and head back along San Vicente and finish on Ocean Blvd. near the Santa Monica Pier. One little bit of info worth noting is that even though the course feels flat, it actually has a gradual incline and decline. While the elevation change only ends up to be around 200' (spread over two miles), runners will probably notice that the final third of the race seems to be easier than the section that precedes it. This little tidbit might help racers adjust their pacing and help them finish a few seconds quicker. And for those of you who ran the Los Angeles Marathon, the Santa Monica RunFEST gives a chance to relive the final two miles of the marathon and perhaps enjoy the nice ocean view a bit more (let's face it, at mile 24 of a marathon I'm not overly aware of my surroundings). COURSE SERVICES Course services for the Santa Monica RunFEST are pretty basic, but sufficient. There aren't a ton of porta potties around, so you might want to find a place to stop at before your arrive in Santa Monica (I myself made a quick pit stop at a nearby McD's). The course itself featured a few water stops, but they were a little undermanned. Since the race is only a 10K, you might be better served to bring your own water. I carried two 8oz. bottles on my hydration belt and was able to bypass every water stop. The race did have safety personnel traversing the course on bikes and police officers monitoring the intersections to keep the traffic at bay. Basic mile markers were situated on the course, but be sure to wear your GPS as the only digital read-out is at the finish line. The race did provide runner timing (although not for friends/family members to monitor) featuring a shoe tag (which for some reason we were able to keep). I would suspect that next year the timing chips might be imbedded on the bibs. FINISH LINE SERVICES/POST PARTY The finish line services for the race were pretty basic, only some water available (no snacks) and I couldn't find any "finish photographers." The race did feature a post-race party located on the Santa Monica Pier where you could get some water, energy drinks and a few snacks from vendors (I scored a bottle of chocolate milk, which did hit the spot). They had a band playing in the background and race results were available (there was also an "extra cost" VIP party located further up on the pier), but you really didn't miss anything if you decided to skip the festivities. RECOMMENDATION I do enjoy the Santa Monica 5000/RunFEST or whatever it ends up being called next year. It's a nice no-stress race with a laid back feel and decent view of the ocean. The race doesn't feature many bells and whistles, but that's okay with me. This race doubled as my taper run for next week's LA Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon and I had a lot of fun. I plan to be back in 2015.

Review of Temecula Wine Country Half Marathon by ashleyspotts

This was my first half marathon, and the experience could not have been better. The t shirt was lovely & the swag good. The whole course was stunning beyond words. Hot air balloons rose as we began. The mayor spoke at the start which was really, really neat. The pacers were on target & so helpful. The course was lovely. It was easy enough for a beginner, but still with hills for some challenge. We passed all sorts of beautiful homes, yards, vineyards, & many animals! It was quiet & peaceful. Weather was very nice for that time of year. It was well supported with aid stations, first aid, & porta potties. It was a moderate crowd which was nice. We weren't running over eachother, but it was well loved. Looking back after having done a few half's now, people seemed so generally happy to be at the race. It was mostly women...Maybe that's why. There was a neat comradery. Post race was nice. The complimentary wine & glass was awesome! There was band & some good booths. Only thing that was not great was the shuttle service back from the race. We waited forever & it was not clear where we were being picked up. Would HIGHLY recommend.

Review of Surf City Marathon & Half Marathon by Scott Devine

RACE: Surf City Marathon/Half Marathon 2015 DATE: February 1, 2015 LOCATION: Huntington Beach, CA DISTANCES: Half Marathon/Marathon START TIME: 6:30am (Marathon)/7:45am (Half Marathon) WEATHER AT START: 54° and sunny. FINISHERS: 14,138- Half Marathon/ 2070- Marathon (Updated from 2014 review) So, it's Super Bowl Sunday. What are you going to do before game time? Watch 10-hours of pre-game banter discussing which team has a better equipment manager? Heck no. Instead, why not run a half marathon (or a full), have fun, earn some bling and build up a major calorie deficit... so you don't feel guilty stuffing your face during the Big Game. Well, over 16,000 racers decided to just that and "kicked off" their day by pounding the pavement along Pacific Coast Highway with the annual running of the Surf City Marathon/Half Marathon. REGISTRATION/PACKET PICK-UP Registration costs for Surf City are in keeping with most races, expect to spend in the neighborhood of $90 for the half and a little over $100 for the full (depending on when you sign-up, the earlier the cheaper). Packet pick-up for the race was at the seaside Expo held in the parking lot near the start line. The expo runs Friday and Saturday for bib/shirt pick-up. Parking for the expo was $15 at the beach lots, but if you’re comfortable with a little walking you should be able to find a meter nearby. The expo itself is a nice time, complete with a good amount of vendors present. There are also a few photo opportunities (I like the “pose on a surfboard” one myself). And an added bonus is that when you walk out of the expo you’re right on the beach, so hang out for bit and enjoy the view. TRANSPORTATION/PARKING When you've got 18,000 runners simultaneously hitting an oceanside community like Huntington Beach, parking can be a little challenging. The race organizers “highly recommend” carpooling and people who arrive on race morning should expect traffic delays, as finding a spot might be a bit tricky. There are shuttle options, which worked for me as I parked at one of the "approved" parking lots (Newland Center or Civic Center) and caught a bus to and from the start line without much hassle at all. T-SHIRT/MEDALS/SWAG Surf City does have a great piece of swag with their finisher’s medal. Continuing their “surfboard” trend that they started in ’08, the race features a “wooden” medal sporting the race’s logo... this year's model was nicknamed "Riptide." The full marathon medal is slightly larger than the half marathon version and features a blue ribbon as opposed to red for the half marathon. And an extra bonus for you runners who complete the “Beach Cities Challenge” is the latest edition of the challenge medal (this is my second one). By running three consecutive races (Surf City, OC Marathon and Long Beach) you earn this gigantic medal (it’s a heavy sucker). The twist on the latest version is the seashell medal opens and closes (thanks to magnets) like a lady's compact. And the "surf theme" shows up again with the race tech shirts, which resembles a surfer's wetsuit. This year's long-sleeve shirt featured vertical yet curvy blue, orange and white stripes (the ladies' version had more muted colors while the unisex was brighter). The race distance was printed along one sleeve while a "2015" ran down the other sleeve. I loved the shirt from the moment I saw it and I look forward to wearing it time and again. Very well done! Oh, and this year the race offered up one additional piece of swag. You received your shirt and bib in a re-usable shopping bag adorned with a "VW Beachcruiser" motif. It's a very nice touch, especially for us Cali residents who have to bring our own shopping bags (or pay $.10 each at the store). I know of a few other races that give out bags like this and it's another cool way we can show off our running addictions to everyone. I hope more races follow suit and give out bags like these. COURSE (HALF MARATHON) For all its popularity and other positive attributes, the one thing about Surf City that’s very average is the course itself. Now I’ll preface this by saying you are running along PCH near the water, which is really sweet and a great view (and smell the salty air… or maybe that’s just the sweat from the other runners). But that’s pretty much all you run. The course is basically an “out and back,” running along PCH, with one short add on. Around mile 3 you hang a right and spend the next 2-3 miles scampering around a residential neighborhood before returning to PCH a little before mile 6. From there on, it’s nothing but PCH until around mile 8 where you hang a U-turn and head back to the start (you don’t hit the residential section on the way back). One great thing about Surf City though is it’s a speedy and straight course. With just a few hills in the residential section and another hill and slight upgrade a little after mile 10, this course should allow you to push yourself and shoot for a PR. And since it’s a straight course, for the most part, you don’t have to worry about adding distance to the run (I ended up only adding .06 miles over the entire race). COURSE SERVICES Surf City does a pretty solid job with their course support, offering plenty of water stops manned by eager volunteers. The “official” drink was Vitalyte, and Cliff shots were offered at more than one stop. I noticed several medical tents set up along the course along with numerous bike volunteers carrying supply packs like beachside St. Bernards. There were also a few bands scattered along the course belting out tunes (thanks for coming out) and I turned down my headphones whenever I ran by them. The mile markers on the course featured a "road sign" motif for the half marathoners and a surfboard one for the full marathon. Be sure to bring your GPS as the only digital clock is at the start/finish line. FINISH LINE SERVICES/POST PARTY Surf City has decent post race services. Runners get water, a mylar blanket and some snacks (given out in a handy little bag). The over 21 crowd also can go to the beer tent where they can 2 free brews as a fun way to re-hydrate. The expo does remain open on Sunday after the race, although many of the vendors pack-up on Saturday night. But if you're feeling guilty about not grabbing a race souvenir on Friday or Saturday, you get one last chance to snag a memento (although popular sizes of shirts may be long gone). RECOMMENDATION I have to admit a little personal bias toward Surf City, as it was the site of my first ever half marathon (you never forget your first). But this is just a solid race presented on an enjoyable (if unremarkable) course and offering a slew of runners a chance to run along the beach before heading off to watch the big game. I look forward to running Surf City again next year.

Review of San Diego Half Marathon by ashleyspotts

Awesome race! Best support I have ever seen! Aid stations had water, electrolytes, salt, vaseline, & first aid; so many portas! I felt so spoiled! It was also supported with 3 high school marching bands which nearly made me tear up with sentiment & was so energizing. I'd choose band over a dj anyday. It made it feel like a true community event. Lots of folks came out of their houses with signs, cheering, & even snacks! A woman was handing out donuts on one corner, & a man with his very small son with popsicles! How great is that?! It was well organized with pacers. Well organized on the course. It was mostly beautiful, but unavoidably we went through some stinky sketchy areas. The hill at mile 8(?) was INSANE, but an awesome challenge for dedicated runners. The metal is lovely! I highly recommend! It would be great to travel to as it's a wonderful San Diego experience but a must for locals who love the area.

Review of Santa To The Sea Half Marathon by Scott Devine

RACE: Santa To the Sea Half Marathon DATE: December 14, 2014 LOCATION: Oxnard, CA DISTANCES: Half Marathon/5K/1K Kids Run/Diaper Dash START TIME: 8:00am (Half Marathon) WEATHER AT START: 51° and sunny FINISHERS: 1,878 (Half Marathon)/ 736 (5K) 'Tis the season to be sweaty, Fa la la la la... la la la la. This past Sunday the north pole came to Oxnard as a gaggle of runners showed off their holiday spirit (and a whole bunch of wacky holiday costumes too) as they trekked from the 101 highway down to the ocean in the 7th running of the Santa to The Sea Half Marathon. REGISTRATION/EXPO Costs for this Santa-centric race are quite reasonable as they start at $55 for early comers, climbing throughout the year, maxing out at $95 just before race weekend. And the race does run specials/discounts throughout the year, so your inner Scrooge can smile as you'll be sure to save a few dollars off registration fees. As for the expo/bib/shirt pick-up, the race offered several options. You could do the traditional "day before race" expo in Oxnard. Another option was to do VIP pick-up on race morning for an extra $20. For those of us in LA who didn't feel like driving all the way to Oxnard two days in a row, the race organizers also had an early pick-up the week before in Santa Monica (a tradition I hope they continue). I, however, chose the final option which was to pay $6 to have my bib/timing chip mailed to me. I would get my race tech shirt at the finish line. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a bit of a problem as after the race I was told they were out of men's shirts (grrr). But like Santa coming to the rescue, I met with the race director who took my info and said he would get a shirt mailed to me asap. MEDALS/SHIRT/SWAG The swag for the race was pretty standard fare, meaning a finisher's medal and race tech shirt. One nice twist is that the organizers let the runners vote (via Facebook) on various aspects of the bling. We got to decide on the color scheme of the medal as well as the ribbon design. As for the shirt, runners got to pick the color and short sleeved vs. long sleeved. The votes were tallied and the winning designs chosen. This year's medal featured Santa chugging along, lugging the number "7" on his shoulder along with a green border surrounding him. The ribbon was a holiday themed green and red sash, complete with images of presents, ornaments and the race's name. Not the most subtle or elegant medal you'll ever receive, but it definitely radiated the holiday spirit. The 2014 race shirt was a deep green color with white stripes on the side and featured the race's logo on the chest. The shirts were long-sleeved and they had crew neck versions for the "lords a' leaping" and V-necks for the "maids a' milking." As race shirts go, it was a pretty decent design and again kept with the holiday theme. TRANSPORTATION/PARKING Transportation to the half marathon was pretty straightforward. Drive on the 101 highway until you get to "The Collection" shopping center in Oxnard where you park and catch a quick bus ride to the starting area. People running the 2nd leg of the half marathon relay took another shuttle from the start line to the midway point of the race. After the race, runners caught another bus back to the parking area. Parking is free at "The Collection" and the whole operation went pretty smoothly. COURSE (HALF MARATHON) The Santa To The Sea Half Marathon features a "point to point" course... hence the "to the sea" part. You start at the big "Santa" located at Nyeland Acres (right by the 101) and meander your way down through the city of Oxnard until you get to the ocean (find yourself standing in waves and you've gone too far). The route is flat (with the exception of a freeway overpass or two) with twists and turns along industrial parks and neighborhoods making your way to the coast. Once you hit mile 11, you run along a seaside bike path for a mile or so before finishing near the harbor. Two things of note on the course: first off, at times you're sharing the road with cars (runners have one side of the road). The course does intersect several sizable intersections with cars waiting to cross. Police and volunteers were on hand directing traffic and holding cars. But on more than one occasion I felt a little uneasy that an impatient motorist was going to try and "thread the needle" and jump the gun. Secondly, on some stretches of road the pavement was a bit beat up (lots of cracks/potholes). Runners need to be extra alert to make certain they don't step on a crack and potentially twist an ankle (or break their mother's back). SERVICES Kudos to the over 500 volunteers who helped out with the Santa to the Sea Half Marathon (many of whom I saw handing out water). The services for the race were in keeping with its size and fairly basic. The course was dotted with water stops (and some energy drink) and Gu's were given out at one stop near the end. Since it's impractical to think a race of this size would be packed start to finish with fans, the race opted to create "cheer zones" along the course where locals gathered to give runners a nice motivation boost. I enjoyed running through each of the zones, high-fiving kids along the way. Given the meandering nature of the course, I was wondering early on if there would be enough signage out there to give runners sufficient heads up on which way to go. I definitely went with a lemming-inspired "follow the person in front of you" strategy. And while mile markers were present on the course, be sure to bring a GPS watch if you want to know your time. FINISH/POST PARTY The Santa To The Sea Half Marathon did have a pretty good finish line area. After receiving their medals, runners were treated to a few drinks, fruit and snacks (I appreciated the homemade cookies). Runners could also visit the tented area to check out the race expo one last time. Spectators were also able to see many of the presents donated by the runners. NOTE: One really great aspect of the race was that each runner was asked to bring an unwrapped toy to give to local charities. As I approached the start line amidst the sea of Santas, almost every runner I saw was bringing toys or goods to donate. Well done runners! One other nice addition at the finish line was the race basically emptied out into the area for the local farmer's market. So be sure to tuck an extra $20 in your running belt if you want to pick up some good home grown produce and local prepared food. Oh, and since the shuttle after the race dropped you right back at The Collection, you have the chance to do some quick shopping or grab a bite to eat (provided you're not too sweaty or too tired to walk). RECOMMENDATION I enjoy "holiday themed" races and the chance to break out goofy headgear (I opted with Santas on springs this year). Last year I ran the Holiday Half Marathon in Pomona, so it's hard not to think of Santa To The Sea without comparing the two. In their defense, I'll say each race has its strengths as well as areas where they could improve. But both are small town races, so you tend to be more forgiving with shortcomings as well as wanting to support the local running community. I'm glad I ran the Santa To the Sea Half Marathon. From the runners donating gifts, to the people decked out in costumes and the locals supporters cheering on friends and family (and strangers), I think the race succeeded in capturing the spirit of the season.

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