My Top 4 Half Marathon Races – Part ONE

My Top 4 Half Marathon Races – Part ONE

With no half marathons held and those I had wanted to run canceled I have begun to reflect on the ones I have run since 2014. I have recently tried to consider which one was the best, most unique, was in the best location, had the best expo, and so on. Therefore, in this post, I will give my thoughts on the Top 4 Half Marathons I have run.

For this list, I will go backward from 4 to 1, with my number one race separated in another blog post. This ranking is not to disparage any of the races I have done, or those that are ranked lower, but instead to credit those four half marathons I feel were the best overall! I analyzed the beauty of the course, the success of the Expo, the medal’s awesomeness, whether I enjoyed the city hosting the race, the accommodations, and the overall experience the “runcation.”

As I wrote in my Half Marathon Travel page, I have run 16 Half Marathons in 13 different states plus Washington, DC. All of them have gifted me with memories of travel, fulfillment, and progress. I started running half marathons in 2014, and the itch has never stopped. I am constantly looking for new races, especially those that can I can plan a travel vacation around—what a great way to jump-start a travel idea. Look for fun races in cool places; register, book it, prepare, and go!

So, without delay, let’s get to my top 4 half marathons that I have run, so far…

Number FOUR: Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon

On July 11, 2015, I ran my fourth half marathon, but what would be my third half marathon of 2015. I would go in to run five of these races in 2015 alone. It was less than a month after I had run The New Bedford Half Marathon. I had never run races this close together, and I would never do it again. Not because it went poorly, the opposite actually, but it would take me a lot longer to recover.

The reason I choose this Portland, ME race as my number 4 is because of the course. Now, there was no expo, no free race shirt (I ended up buying one), and I drove up the morning of the race, so it was not a real running vacation. Even so, this race left a memory and therefore was deserving of a spot. The drive up on the July morning was perfect, the weather was warm, but not humid, and since we only lived around 50 minutes away, it was an easy drive. We made it to the start area, got my BIB, bought a race shirt, and stretched. My wife, who joined me, took off as I got into the corral, and while I was running, it was coffee and Holy Donut for her!

We started the race at Old Port and ran west towards Western Promenade, which was pretty flat. For the first 3 miles of the race, I was flying and felt fantastic. There was a pleasant sea breeze while I ran along the coast and through Portland’s downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, which were beautiful. I should note that while the race started flat, it is not a flat course, and the elevation rises 120 feet in the early part of the race. Once the hills began, my knees started to get tired. But halfway through the race, I felt pretty good. I think I felt good because, as HalfMarathons.net wrote, “The middle portion of the race features some of the course’s most scenic terrain, as runners will make their way around Portland’s Back Cove along the Back Cove and Bayside trails.” (Just a note, when looking for a website with all the information you could want for half marathons, go to HalfMarathons.Net)

Crossing over and eventually under Turkey Bridge and running predominantly near the beautiful waterfront with amazing views, the race was enjoyable. I ran in some of Portland’s most popular areas, like Black Cove, which was the best part of the race. One thing I should point out, it was freaking hot. HOT! That nice pleasant morning temperature, those cooling sea breezes, well those did not stick around to help as the heat of July in Maine bore down on me. If it not for the scenery, the heat of the sun would have proved overwhelming. But, as Yoda would have said, run smoothly and run with determination, I did. In the last mile of the race, I spotted my wife cheering me on, and as I just went through a cooling station, I had the emotional strength to finish! I did and felt an incredible sense of accomplishment.

The post-race party was one of the best I have attended. Why? Well, free Shipyard Brewing beer, free pizza from the Portland Pie Company, and impressive finisher medal. I love race medals. I will look into races and select them based on the medal I might get. I know that seems strange, but I love race bling! All in all, a fantastic course, easy registration and parking, well-organized, great goodies provided after the race, and a medal I can look at and think back to the heat of the race, but the beauty of the Maine coast.

Now the half marathons I ranked at 2 & 3 were close. Both races are part of the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon series. There are similarities with the expo and race organization, but the race experience, course, medal, and overall running vacation was very different. Therefore, one Rock n’ Roll edged out other for the number two spot, but number one would be an entirely different race experience. Shall we get to it?

Number THREE: Denver Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon

On October 15, 2017, my brother and I took on the Denver, CO half marathon in what proved to be, at the time, one of the all-time running vacations! We had run half marathons in either October or November each year since our first half marathon in Walt Disney World in 2014, and this remains true to this day.

So, why Denver? Well, Denver had always been on my “must go to” cities, and in 2017 everything seemed to come together to make this trip a reality. I had run a few Rock n’ Roll Half Marathons, so I was keeping an eye out for races that had good dates and maybe, just maybe, had something else going on in the city that would inspire my brother and me to go for it. It just so happened that our favorite NFL team, the New York Giants, were coming to Denver to play the Broncos for Sunday Night Football. A half marathon and SNF in one weekend seemed to be the perfect situation. We would run in the morning and watch football in the evening. Yup! We signed up and booked our trip, and when October rolled around, we were ready and damn, this trip did not disappoint.

Let me start by saying I love the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathons. For me, the organization, communication, and overall race preparation make these the perfect races for half marathon travel. Denver was no different. My brother and I arrived on Friday morning, checked into our hotel downtown, and proceeded to take in Denver’s brewery scene. As I said on the Half Marathon Travel page, I always look to visit breweries when in a new city, and my brother is the same. So, we made our first day in Denver about the beer scene. We visited Jagged MountainGreat DivideWoods Boss, and Breckinridge Brewing. The brewery visits were fantastic and made our first day in Denver, one to remember. As a note, we also went to a couple of breweries, Little Machine and Briar Common Brewery, which were close to Mile High Stadium after the Half Marathon on Sunday and as a prep for the football game Sunday night.

With the race on Sunday morning, we choose to use Saturday as a rest day and eat some good food, take in a movie, and hit up the race expo. I have already sung the praises of the Rock n’ Roll experience for races, and the Expo in Denver was sufficient. It was a little further away from downtown, so we had to Uber, but the event was well laid out in a large convention center and had tons of vendors, which allowed for quick and easy bib pickup. I will add the race shirt included in these Rock n’ Roll races is sponsored by Brooks and are nicely designed to go along the city theme, comfortable, and a great souvenir.

When Sunday morning rolled around, we did our usual morning race routine. Coffee, health bar, banana, and some other things. The hotel we were staying at was a couple of blocks away from both the race start and finish, which is one of the reasons I had selected the hotel. Once ready, we departed and headed to our corral. Even though Jeff is usually in a much lower-numbered corral he always hangs back with me, even though after the clock starts, we first bump and cross the start line he is off like a hare, and I am the tortoise, just in this story, the hare wins, easily.

The course is a loop, which runs through the city. It starts and finishes only steps away from the Colorado State Capitol building in Civic Center Park, and along the route, you will see amazing sites, like Coors Field, the Pepsi Center, City Park, and Ferril Lake. I love races like this because, as a newcomer to the city, I can see places all around the downtown and more that I may not see on such a short trip. The weather was beautiful and crisp, the sun was shining, and the altitude never bothered me. Overall, it was a great run. There were no significant hills that would often crush my knees and stamina, it had numerous on the course spectators, and again well organized and awesome bands along the entire course. You finish the race with lots of people cheering you on, and you get plenty of goodies, as well as a fierce finisher medal.

Overall, the race was one I would do again. I liked Denver, such as a hip and inviting city. While this trip was about my brother and I traveling for a “runcation” and afterward seeing our NY Giants defeat the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football, I would venture back to Denver again, hopefully, sooner than later. But this was a race to remember, and Denver had everything you need.

Number TWO: San Diego Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon

Nothing says “runcation” more than flying across the country to the beautiful city of San Diego and taking in the beaches, food, beer, and tying up those running sneakers making it all worth it. I knew that my sister-in-law Kaitlyn wanted to travel to San Diego. She has a friend out there and, like me, saw Anchorman too many times. So, when I noticed that there was a Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon in the city in June of 2017, I texted Kaitlyn about it and threw the idea at her about running it and that her, my wife/her sister, and I all could use a fun vacation. She texted, “yes!” We immediately signed up for the races, booked our flights, and prepared for a five-day trip to beautiful San Diego! We were ready, but the real question was whether San Diego was ready for us?

Placing San Diego in the number two spot was hard, it could have easily been my number one, just as much as the Denver Half Marathon could have breached the top two. San Diego is a fantastic city, with incredible food, great breweries, as well as sun, sand, and smiles. It was honestly, one of my favorite trips, not only for half marathons but just in general. Traveling and vacationing with my wife and sister-in-law was fabulous and, in all honesty, made the trip a memory that will last a lifetime.

I prepared for the race pretty well. San Diego would be my 11th half marathon, but in 2015 & 2016 I completed eight half marathons, and my body was telling me to slow it down and stick to two or three half marathons a year, no more. Doing so allowed me to prepare better and go into the race feeling strong and confident. San Diego was not a race to PR. I wanted to spend as much time in the early stages of the half marathon with Kaitlyn. I felt it was essential to offer her support, if she needed it, to get started and stay with her as long as she wanted me in those early miles.

We all got to San Diego a couple of days before the race so that we could get some sun and relaxation. We ate well, drank well, and enjoyed being together in the city. We stayed in a nice hotel, pretty close to Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, and were able to see one of their home games. Petco Park is probably the best baseball stadium I have visited. It had a fun atmosphere, good food and beer options, and a beautiful ballpark with great views of the city from the upper deck. I would recommend anyone traveling to the city to get a ticket and take in a game. You will not be disappointed.

In the first couple of days, we enjoyed the sun and ate at places like Crack Shack and drank at some spectacular breweries. The craft beer options the city offered were out of this world. Besides my trip to Denver, CO, I have been to no other city with better brewery and beer options. Stone BrewingMission Brewing, and Half Door Brewing were all great, but Ballast Point was the Allstar, MVP, and, you name it, Ballast Point won it. 

Trips to Pacific Beach, Coronado, and walking around the Gaslamp District, where we stayed, were enjoyable and lively. Uber in the city was cheap and accessible, and places like Crack Sack, Copa Vida, Oscar’s, Slaters 50/50, and much more were not expensive and so delicious. But the food, environment, the beer, and baseball were just a small part of this trip, and what made it my number two half marathon, we still needed to run 13.1 miles, and those miles sealed the deal at moving this race high up my list.

Like all Rock n’ Roll Expos, the one in San Diego was huge, made especially clear by the fact it was at the San Diego Convention Center, the same center that holds San Diego Comic-Con each year. As usual, bib pickup was simple, there were tons of vendors, and the happy environment of runners walking around excited about the race was infectious.

On the day of the race, traveling to the starting line required Kaitlyn and me to board a free shuttle from just outside our hotel and bring us about a mile north to the start point at Balboa Park. While the end of the race would be closer to our hotel and near the water on State St., the start required a little more navigation, but it was well signed, organized, and we were able to get to the start with ease and excitement. Running through Balboa Park, alongside the world-famous San Diego Zoo and beautiful neighborhoods like University Heights and Normal Heights, the half marathon was spectacular. There was never a dull moment and thousands of spectators who cheered us on, offering us shots of alcohol and mixed drinks along the way.

As for my running, the first three-miles, I stayed with Kaitlyn and made sure she kept a solid pace that would allow her to finish with no problem. It was probably one of the emotionally satisfying three-mile stretches I have ever run. Being able to run alongside her and chat and enjoy the insanity of the start to the race was a memory I will never forget. But I also wanted her to have her half marathon experience and conquer this goal without hovering over her. She didn’t need me; she had this! So, for me, the race was smooth, my running strategy well-planned out, and I was able to complete a near PR performance. I enjoyed the miles most when we were going through the neighborhoods. I feel these races are a great way, as I said before, to see parts of the city I may not have time to see on such a structured trip. When I finished the run, it was a madhouse of people everywhere. They were banging into me and grabbing the snacks, water, and various other freebies as we all got bottlenecked moving out of the finish area. I was still able to quickly find my wife and watched, together, as Kaitlyn finished her race strong! So proud of her. She said she would do it, never backed down, and finished like a pro. While I may never be able to get her to run another half marathon, this race, this memory, this moment, was worth everything.

The San Diego Half Marathon could have easily been ranked number one on my list. The city was great, the race shirt and medal amazing, and running with Kaitlyn and having s wonderful vacation all made it perfect. But, there can only be one winner, and it will not be a Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon, not even a race that is part of a national race organization. Instead, the half marathon that won will be smaller and its Expo in a space no larger than 1,000 square feet. The finisher medal will be my number one, the scenery my number one, and the emotional feeling the race provided will sit atop the pyramid at number one.

Join me in my next blog post for my Number One Half Marathon! Will you?

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