I must admit openly that it is hard to have a bad experience when you get to spend Labor Day weekend on the beach and get a ticket to a headliner concert with your race registration. That being said, like every race this race is not perfect and has some things that it could improve on and when compared to other races it has to be judged as falling short.
We moved to Washington DC on Memorial Day weekend of 2012 and on Labor Day weekend of that year I found this race not only as an opportunity to welcome myself to the Washington DC area but also it provided us an opportunity to have a great vacation to signify the end of summer. This year marks the third consecutive year that we have both done races as part of this weekend and we are planning on going back again next year.
Race Criteria: I have divided my experience into five categories that cover what I think is every aspect of a race. Just to make it easy each category will be numbered 1-20 for a total out of 100 to rank the race.
Race Organization: 18/20
The Competitor organization has gotten plenty of compliments on how it puts on its Rock and Roll Marathon series, most famously their Las Vegas race every November, and I must concur with all the compliments that Rock and Roll has been given. The VA Beach Half marathon is always put on well with plenty of security and medical personnel on the course, ample water stations, and plenty of on course entertainment to earn the name “Rock and Roll”. You can always dog a race for not having too many porta potties at the start or at parts in the race but no matter how many you have there will always be a line and this race was no exception but that does not ruin any part of the race.
The expo is one place where I believe that this race could improve. For the last three years this race has had essentially the exact same expo. They have not added any new features or good presenters that have added a lot to the experience. This race has over 15,000 runners and I think that the expo could be larger and better utilized to add to the race experience. Although there are plenty of booths there is just something missing that can take the expo to the next level.
Course/Race Experience: 19/20
When I look at a race and try to decide if I want to do it, the course/race experience is one of the things that I look at most. Whether it is that the race is historic (Marine Corp, NYC, Chicago or Boston for example) or has a unique on course experience (Walt Disney, Big Sur, Pikes Peak) a unique course always makes a great impact on the overall experience for any runner. VA Beach has that unique quality to the course and the race that creates a great environment for any runner. On this very flat course you start off at the convention center just a few blocks from the beach and you quickly run to Atlantic Ave right next to the beach where the 5K race turn off occurs around mile 2.75. After that you head south past the Virginia Aquarium before making a turn at mile 6 and heading towards an old military camp for miles 8-10. After the camp you tun back towards the beach for miles 10-12. Right after the 12 mile marker you hit the boardwalk for the last mile. This mile is not only beautiful as you run along the boardwalk towards the finish line but excruciating at the same time since you can see the finish line but it is still so far away. All three years this last mile has been the hardest of the race as I have to run towards the finish line that doesn’t look like it is getting any closer.
When you look at what makes a course unique you have the urban courses that allow you to see the whole city, like in New York or Chicago, and you have the scenic ones that allow you to see places in a way that you never had before, like Big Sur and Pikes Peak and this race in VA Beach is a great mix of the two. You have long stretches of quiet roads south of town but you get to begin and finish near in the city, finishing with a beautiful run on a great boardwalk. This race being on Labor Day does make it challenging because of the heat that can occur but it also provides for a great chance that the weather will be great for the race. Rock and Roll hits a homerun with this course and I would recommend that they don’t change a thing going forward.
Post Race: 13/20
For anyone who has crossed the finish line after a long race, at least if you are like me, the first thing you want is something to drink and eat. Luckily, many races have great post race celebrations that will allow you to successfully recover quickly. VA Beach unfortunately has to fight against the lack of space on the boardwalk that creates huge problems for the post race party. The Boardwalk is not that wide so it is very hard to fit through the 15,000 runners, all the volunteers handing out the food and drinks as well as all the spectators trying to find their friends and family who have just finished the race. After you squeeze through the guantlet of the finish line and you are ready to celebrate with your free beer you have to walk on the sand to get it. This year, more than others, bothered me since sand immediately covered my shoe and provided me with a very uncomfortable walk back to the hotel. The same finish that provides such a great site to the runners also doesn’t allow it to have enough room to have a great post race party.
Let me start with the worst part of the race, the t-shirt I am not big on the freebies, or the medals, but I was very disappointed in the shirt. it went for the nostalgic look of running on the beach but it came off as simply…cheap. Given it is a Brooks technical running shirt so it is a great shirt to run it, it is just not one to wear around to brag about you finishing the race.
Each year on Labor Day weekend VA Beach hosts the American Music Festival. They have multiple stages throughout the boardwalk which host dozens of concerts throughout the weekend, culminating in a headliner each night on a large stage on the beach. With your entry into the half marathon you get access to EVERY concert the whole weekend. Also, Bride, who runs the 5K, gets free access to the headliner concert on Sunday night at the beach stage. This year that headliner was Train and they did not disappoint. We also got to see Cherry Poppin Daddies sing their signature hit “Zoot Suit Riot” at one of the free stages on the boardwalk. This added benefit puts VA Beach in a league of its own out of all the races that I have ran. Never have I gotten access to such a great perk just for signing up for the race.
MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 80/100
This race is one that I look forward to every year and will continue to run as long as I am able to. This race is a weekend experience for me and Bride. We enjoy the beach, the weather, the celebration of the end of summer as well as the ability to complete a race. Usually I have to hurry home after a race to be work on Monday, or rush to the race for a Saturday race but this holiday weekend allows a lot more relaxation to take place. We took our time getting to the expo on Saturday morning, driving down from DC that morning, went to the beach afterwards and was able to relax after the race until the concert and not leave until after my recovery run was done the next morning.
I can’t wait to go back. The highest compliment that I can give to this race is not my recommendation, but the fact that it also has Bride’s recommendation!