The Casual Runner

My Top 10 Races (Part 1)

The Casual Runner Team receives a lot of questions from our readers and other Casual Runners who are looking for recommendations on what races they should run.  We have already shared with you some suggestions how to select your first race and our wish list of races for 2015, but we have also been asked a lot about what our favorite races are.  This got me thinking that I should just bite the bullet and commit myself to a feature setting forth my favorite races. So, here goes, my Top 10 List of the favorite races that I have run.

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No, this is not some tropical locale. This is one of the gorgeous views of Lake Erie you will experience while running the Erie Half Marathon at Presque Isle.

Now, to give you a little bit of background, 2015 is the fourth consecutive calendar year in which I have run official/formal/whatever-you-want-to-call-them races.  To date I have run 4 5ks, 5 10ks, 13 half marathons, 3 half marathons, and an assortment of race relays and race challenges.  My favorite training distance is the 10k, my favorite event distance is the half marathon, and my least favorite distance is the 5k.  I swore I would never run a full marathon, yet somehow I have run 3! I also have a certain affection for runDisney races.  So how does this all play into my top 10 race events? Well, the answers may surprise you a little bit, especially my #1. So here we go…

#10) Erie Half Marathon at Presque Isle – Erie, Pennsylvania

I have run this event twice, and enjoyed myself both times (please check out my reviews of the 2013 and 2014 events).  Set in the picturesque Presque Isle State Park, runners are treated to a beautiful course that alternates between tree-lined roads and gorgeous views of the white sandy beaches that line this stretch of Lake Erie’s shoreline.  This is a flat and fast course, so much so that the marathon event is renowned as a Boston Marathon Qualifier. It also happens to be the location of my half marathon PR .  The volunteers do an excellent job of presenting a relaxed, comfortable race without scrimping on any of the quality.  You will be hard pressed to find a better half marathon experience for the price. (You can watch our YouTube event video here).

Possible Improvement? The downside of the scenic location is that it does not allow for much crowd support, so if that is what you enjoy, this may not be the race for you.  For 2015, organizers announced that they are dropping the half marathon from the fall weekend schedule, and instead are focusing on the marathon event and running the half marathon in July.

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Running in Paradise: Castaway Cay, Bahamas.

I really enjoyed having this event on my Fall race calendar and doubt that I will be able to make room for it in July, which is always a very busy month for me.  I am also disappointed to hear that they are focusing on the full marathon at the expense of the half, which I believe to be a great distance for Casual Runners.

#9) runDisney/Disney Cruise Line Castaway Cay 5k (and Parks to Paradise Challenge) – Castaway Cay, Bahamas

How many times can you say that you ran a race in a tropical paradise?  Let alone one that is on a private island? Well, that is all I needed to have a 5k make my list when I normally do not even run 5ks.

The Castaway Cay 5k is offered as a free (and fun) activity for every Disney Cruise Line cruise that visits Disney’s private Bahamian Island, Castaway Cay (you can check out my review here). Additionally, runDisney added a special challenge – the Parks to Paradise Challenge – to runners who sail on select DCL cruises that depart after Walt Disney World race weekends (you can check out Jennifer’s review of that experience here).

Aside from the great location, the best part of this event is that it gives Casual Runners a fun opportunity to work some fitness into their cruising experience.   Also, when you are done, it is a quick walk back to the ship to grab a shower and some breakfast, before returning to spend your entire day relaxing in the soft sand and enjoying the beautiful Bahamian sunshine.

Possible Improvement? I love that, for normal cruises, the event is free.  My only suggestion was that they could improve the SMO, which they already did when runDisney rolled out the Parks to Paradise Challenge.  So, I guess that means that they have already optimized this race experience, though I cannot wait to see what else runDisney and Disney Cruise Line may have in store for this event…perhaps a 10k option?

#8) The runDisney Disneyland Half Marathon – Anaheim, California

This race won me over with a plethora of enthusiastic high school marching bands and a raucous welcome into Angels Stadium.  (Please check out our full review of the 2014 expo and race event and our YouTube all-along-the course video). The amount of time spent in the parks (Disneyland and California Adventure) was a little disappointing, though what was spent in the parks was certainly quality.  As runDisney does not employ Disney entertainment outside of Disney property, they did a good job of supplementing those sections of the course with community groups and even a classic car show – and did I mention high school marching bands? They were everywhere and they were awesome.  Is it possible that I enjoyed the enthusiastic bands more than the parks? I plead the Fifth.

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And this is just the photo op at the bib pickup. Imagine how great the rest of the race experience is!

Possible Improvement? The biggest drawback to this course is that such a relatively small percentage of it is spent inside the Disneyland Resort. Instead, runners spend an excessive amount of time in uninteresting industrial and warehouse areas that are pretty much the opposite of Disney magic.  Some tweaks to the course design may be in order.

#7) Akron Half Marathon – Akron, Ohio

You can accuse me of being a bit of a homer as I did work in downtown Akron for 7 years, in fact, I was right across the street from the starting line. This is also where I ran my first ever race (which, admittedly, did not go so well).  My running buddies and I like to joke that a town the size of Akron has no business putting on an event of this high quality and caliber.  The truth of the matter is that Akron is a great community, and that shows by its ability to put together an event that outshines those of much larger metropolitan areas.  This is not lost on the residents as they have a great amount of pride in this event (You can watch our YouTube event video here).

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The awesome in-stadium finish for the Akron Half Marathon & Marathon.

The highlight of this event is without a doubt the finish, which takes place in a packed downtown minor league baseball stadium (you can check out my reviews of the 2013 and 2014 events .  The community support is evident by the size and enthusiasm of the crowds who show up to cheer the runners on.  Add to this the quality SMOs and race shirts, and you have the makings for a fun and worthwhile race experience. Oh, and did I mention that Akron has a BLUE LINE!?!

Possible Improvement? There are some dead areas in this course, however, with the announcement of the new Rubber City Race Series for 2015, all new course designs and new races are in store for runners. It will be interesting to see how these changes impact the race experience for runners. Additionally, while they did introduce corrals to this event, they only had 3 corrals, which was far too few given the large number of runners.  Consequently, the start of the race was marked with the same heavy congestion as when the event utilized a mass start.  More corrals with a timed release would alleviate this problem.

#6) The runDisney Princess Half Marathon – Walt Disney World Resort, Florida

If this is the same course as the Walt Disney World Half Marathon (the “Donald”), why does Princess appear on this list but the Donald does not?  That explanation can be found in my feature on picking your first race. While the Donald is a great race, it does tend to get lost in the hype of the other Marathon weekend events, and the theming of Princess is far superior.  Plus, who doesn’t want to run a race with 24,000 women?

This event has a great atmosphere generated in large part from it being a woman-focused event (you can check out our reviews of the 2013 event (Part 1 & Part 2), the 2015 event, and our Youtube Video).  The course affords you one of best in-race moments a Casual Runner can experience: a stroll up Main Street USA in the early morning hours. Add in the magic of Disney character meet and greets, supportive fellow runners, and friends and family cheering you on in the most magical place on Earth, and you have a great event around which to plan a runcation. Oh, and we haven’t even had a chance to discuss all of the great costumes!

Possible Improvement?: I would like to see some of the parking lot time cut out to allow runners to circle World Showcase, but perhaps I am just being greedy :-)?

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Bling fit for a princess…or a prince.

Well, that is going to about do it for today.

Wait! What? You said that I promised you my Top 10 favorite races, and I only gave you 5? Well, you are going to have to check back tomorrow for numbers 1-5 of my Top 10 List, and I have a feeling #1 may just surprise you.  (UPDATE: Part 2 of this feature is now available, you can check out which races made it into the Top 5 now!).

In the meantime, What do you think of my picks? Do you agree? Disagree? Do you have race events that you would like to add for possible consideration? If so, we definitely want to hear from you.

The Casual Runner Team wants to hear from you. If you have any questions about anything we cover here on Casual Runner, if you have any questions regarding running gear or training for your own Casual Running needs, or if there is anything that you would like us to cover on Casual Runner, please leave a comment or email us using the links below.  To ensure that you do not miss all of the great content from Casual Runner, please be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.  See you out on the running trails!

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