If you've been following me on Instagram for a while, you know that my first love is (and always will be) running. Running is what ignited my fire to begin my fitness journey and live a healthier lifestyle. It forced me to quit smoking (because turns out it's pretty freaking hard to go run eight miles when you smoke a half a pack a day, go figure), tune in to my nutrition (because it's also pretty freaking hard to go run five miles after eating greasy fried food and not have to find a porta-potty along your route, go figure), and actually enjoy being active.
Once I embraced running and began to get a bit faster (and less winded), I started running races. Over the past three years I've participated in every distance from 5K's to a full 26.2, and I've loved all of them! I thought it would be a good idea to do some reviews on the races I've run, in case you're interested in trying them out as well! I'll start with my most recent, the American Family Fitness Half Marathon... or better know as the Richmond Half!
Expo and Packet Pick-Up: I absolutely LOVE this expo! Mainly because it's literally a two minute walk from my house... so that's super convenient. But also because it's packed with fantastic vendors and I could literally spend hours walking around (but I could also spend lots of $$$, so I limit my time). Lots of free samples, and free swag in general (tote bags, frisbees, salad containers - seriously, you could walk out of this expo with an entire bag full of stuff). This year Sierra Nevada was there giving out free beer... so obviously my running partner and I had three samples each and maybe bought more random stuff than we should have. You'll find a ton of booths for other races (most in the area, but some that are destination races) and most offer discounts if you sign up at the expo (for real, bring your wallet to this one). Packet pick up is also a breeze and is always so well organized.
Accommodations and Travel: I'm a Richmonder, so this race is in my city and I get to wake up in my warm bed on race morning. But for those traveling in, I can't recommend RVA enough! Tons of great bars, restaurants and hotels, as well as some really cool things to see! Make a long weekend of it (the race is on Saturday) and check out the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Hollywood Cemetery, or go for a bar crawl in The Fan! The James River flows through the city and it's gorgeous in the fall! When it comes to getting here, Richmond is located right off of Interstate 95 and the airport is super easy if you're flying!
Course: This course is a PR for me literally every single year. I've been running the half since 2014 and each year am faster to the finish line. The course itself is anything but boring and takes you on a very scenic tour of the North side of Richmond. Starting on Broad St and heading down Boulevard past the baseball Diamond, through Bryan Park and the historic Bellevue neighborhood and finally ending on a massive incline down to the finish at Tredegar. Elevation is a non-issue, with the only "hill" being a slight incline near the end of Bryan Park. But be careful of the final stretch to the finish line... the massive downhill can catch you off guard if you're not ready for it! The hydration stations are every two miles with Gu, Gatorade, and water offered. I always run with my Camelback and Honey Stingers so I don't make use of the stations, but they are always stocked and well maintained. But the best part of the course is what gives it the name of "America's Friendliest Marathon"... the crowds! All along the course, spectators line the streets, cheering, waving, and holding some pretty legit signs. There are also several "party zones" set up with DJ's and musicians. The energy is amazing and unlike other races that I've run, the spirit of the crowd will help to carry you to the end as there is barely anywhere on the course without someone telling you how awesome you're doing!
Ease of the Start Line: Start lines can be a serious hassle. Corrals, porta-potty lines, weather... it's easy for the beginning of a race to throw off your mojo. The Richmond Half does a wonderful job of keeping everyone organized before the gun goes off. The porta-potty line is quick to get through and it's fairly easy to move around through Broad St. Parking can be a bit tricky. With the 8K starting at 7:00, the Half starting at 7:30 and the Marathon starting at 8:00, you have to be strategic about when you're going to get to the start. Make sure to leave some time to either find a parking spot on the street (not likely), or bring cash to be able to park in a lot or garage. Also, be sure to have your bib front and center, security for the corrals is pretty tight and they will be checking to make sure you aren't sneaking into a faster wave. This race is usually run the second or third Saturday in November and the weather can vary greatly from start to end. At the start line the temperature is usually pretty chilly and it can tend to be very windy. However, the course itself is mostly in the sun so you'll warm up quickly. I recommend wearing throw away sweats to the start, as everything collected on the side of the course gets picked up and donated to local shelters in the Richmond area... so you can stay warm and help someone in need!
Swag: Yes, the saying is true... "I did it for the free t-shirt!" Sports Backers does a fantastic job with the swag for this race. At packet pick-up you'll receive a technical long sleeve shirt (careful, the unisex sizes run fairly large, women's sizes fit pretty true) and your bib. The shirts are always well made and really represent the spirit of the race and Richmond itself. At the finish line swag overload begins! The finisher's medals are great, not enormous or too flashy, but a good size and always representative of Virginia and the city, with great colors. Along with a medal you'll receive a finisher's hat (literally the BEST hats to run in!) as well as a fleece blanket! All great reminders of what will most likely be a personal best for you!
Post-Race Party: No one parties like Richmond parties. The self proclaimed craft beer capital doesn't disappoint with a fantastic post race party over on Brown's Island. Free beer (for race finishers), food, bands, booths and thousands of fellow runners make this finish line festival an awesome place to hang out afterwards, get in a good stretch, and relax! There are also shuttles to take you back to the start so you won't have to tackle that massive hill on the way back up!
All in all, there's a reason I come back to the race year after year. Not just because it's in my city, but because Sports Backers does such an incredible job from start to finish! The course, the swag, the expo, it's all wonderful! Also, there are training teams offered for the 8K, Half and Full Marathon's each year. In 2017 I'll be stepping my game up and tackling the full 26.2 and training with the Marathon Training Team! If you're looking for a great fall race, come join us next November! Have you run Richmond? Comment below and let me know your thoughts on the race!