My first race ever was in April 2009 and to date, I have run close to 50 different races- wow, that seems like a lot to me! I don’t like to repeat race courses and I really want to try them all (at least all the ones here in northern California) yet there are a couple that I will keep coming back to because they are so well organized and just plain fun- well, as much “fun” as one can have endurance running. Here are my 5 favorite races of all time… so far…
I ran the Half Moon Bay 10K last September and even though I didn’t write a race recap for it (I will though, I swear!!! It was a 3 minute PR for me, how could I NOT eventually write it up?!?!), it truly was a fantastic race! This year will be the 3rd running of HMB and I, unfortunately, will be out of town but I’ll be back in 2014 for the half, definitely.
Half Moon Bay has been a romantic getaway spot for hubby and I for the past decade- we even got engaged there- only about an hour away from Oakland, all coastal, gorgeous beaches, great hotels and spas, and scrumptious restaurants… then when we had kids Half Moon Bay became THE place for those cute pumpkin patch pics. When I learned of the first running in 2011, I had HMB in my sights. It worked out that last year I was finally able to register, book an overnight, and run the 10K.
Registration prices are very reasonable, especially at the early-bird rates (the 5K is even FREE!), and the course itself follows the coastline. Given the race is in the fall, the weather can be pretty overcast and foggy but I honestly prefer a bit of a colder race- and here in the Bay Area, 60 degrees can be “cold” to us! The field is about 1,000 runners for all distances so it’s on the small side and I really like that too- no crowding and elbowing and zig-zagging to get through like in the larger races. It’s dead flat and that totally works for me too. Parking is easy, porta potties a’ plenty and really neat medals! You really couldn’t want more from a race. Check it out here: http://halfmoonbayim.org/
On the other hand, the Presidio 10 is a hilly beast without a medal for your accomplishments (although the rumor mill has it that there WILL be a medal this year!) but The Guardsmen (the group who hosts the race) really know how to put on a post-race party. With live music, breakfast burritos, pancakes, mimosas, screwdrivers and lotsa free schwag this race is, by far, THE MOST FUN I have ever had running. (Okay, I did the 10K and not the 10 mile last year so I can say that truthfully.)
The registration prices are also reasonable and the money raised for the race benefits the Guardsmen and the Ashlyn Dyer Foundation– and you know how much I love supporting good causes! The course goes over the Golden Gate Bridge and there’s your cost of admission right there- with a small field (again, less than 1,000 runners) and access to both sides of the bridge, it is comfortable, uncrowded, and beautiful. Unfortunately with my other race commitments this April, I will not be able to run it this year but you can read my detailed recap from last year here and check out the race for yourself here: http://guardsmen.org/presidio10/
And then there’s Brazen Racing… ahhhhh, my first true race company love… I found Brazen right when they started up in 2009 and since then, they have grown and are now super popular- some Brazen races even sell out! Mainly trail runs, no matter the location, Brazen is know for putting on very well-organized and well-supported races with super awesome medals, colorful bibs and festive tech tees on top of it all. Plus, if you volunteer at one of their races, you earn an entry into any future race- I have a couple friends who never pay for a Brazen race entry as they rotate from volunteering to running over and over again! Such a great way to give back to a community that has given us so much!
Like I said, Brazen specializes in trail runs so I can’t say that every Brazen race I’ve done has been a favorite- like Bear Creek which I dubbed the “5K of Death” as it was 103 degrees on single trails, tons of hills and poison oak all over the place- but the way they mark the course, stagger the starts, average about 500-800 runners, and feed you ice cream, cake and pie afterwards makes for a fantastic race experience no matter the course difficulty. One drawback to the Brazen races is they are usually held on Saturdays and that is when I run with Team in Training, so the last time I was able to do a Brazen race was last January (and you can read that recap here).
Sam and Jasmine, Brazen owners and parents, also host a Thanksgiving Day turkey trot with a kids 200 yard dash again a giant turkey mascot- my kids LOVE this and we try to do it every year! The kids get bibs, medals, goodie bags, and the satisfaction of knowing they kicked some tail feathers. Love, love, LOVE that!!!
Finally, Big Sur Marathon Events host 2 of my favorite races in April and November. The April event is the Big Sur International Marathon complete with a full, full relay, 21 miler, 10.6 miler, 9 miler, AND a 5K. In November they host a half marathon in Monterey. While both are very different in terms of locations and distances, they are the same in terms of course beauty, fun course entertainment, and really neat post-race festivities.
I had the pleasure of running the Big Sur Marathon Relay April 2011 (right before I started this blog!) and in the days leading up to the race, there was a big storm that took out the iconic Bixby Bridge forcing a out-and-back re-route as opposed to the point-to-point race everyone expected. To make a long story short, as the first leg runner of the relay, I ran my 6 and then had to walk the 6 miles back to the start- during the walk back I got to dance with a show girl, eat free fruit, drink margaritas, put on a grass skirt and sing with a band just because all the hired help and neighbors along the way were THAT excited, happy and friendly! When I finally got back to the start, it took my teammates over 3 hours to get back (from delays in the bridge/bus situation) yet I had SO MUCH FUN drinking beer after beer, talking with people and listening to the awards speeches- for all that as well as having to get up at 3am for this one, it was all worth it. Best. Experience. Ever.
And just last November, I finished the Big Sur Half Marathon and even though it was my worst time for a half due to my physical injury (you can read that recap here) it was just as fun and exciting as the April event and I really hope to do it again the right way!
The only drawback to the Big Sur events, I think, is the cost. Registration fees are pretty high, but I truly believe you get what you pay for- both events host a huge expo with sundry running celebrities, book signings and clinics, the on-course entertainment is unparalleled, the post-race food and beer is ample, really hip tech race tee and ceramic medal, and both locations are purely breathtaking, all along the coast. I would definitely do both of these annually if my running budget could afford it!
How about you- what are your favorite races and why? What do you think makes or breaks a race- the reg fee, the course, the expo, on-course support, post race-food, entertainment, the shirt??? Do you have a favorite race that you run annually?