The Casual Runner

My Top 10 Races (Part 2)

Welcome back fellow Casual Runners! Yesterday I gave you numbers 6 through 10 on my list of my Top 10 favorite race events.  You can check which races made the cut here.  As promised, I am back today to fill you in on the top 5 races on my list. So, without any further ado, here we go:

#5) Marine Corps Marathon – Washington, D.C. & Arlington, Virginia

If you talk to most runners – Casual and otherwise – this event usually makes the list of the top 5 American marathons (along with Walt Disney World, New York, Boston, and Chicago), and for good reason.

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The Marine Corps Marathon fittingly ends at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

The United States Marine Corps not only hosts this event, but the Marines embrace it. The runners are their guests and the Marines set out to afford each and every runner a uniquely Marine experience. From the courteous Marines at the expo, to the paratroopers at the start of the race, to the Marines in dress uniforms conferring the finishers’ medals, runners are constantly in awe in the immense pride that the Corps exhibits in their event. (Check out our full review of the 2014 event here: Part 1 & Part 2).

Set in our nation’s capital, the course takes you to some of the most iconic landmarks our nation has, including the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Washington Monument, the White House, The U.S. Capitol Building, and our nation’s preeminent institution of higher education – Georgetown University (yes, I am such a homer – HOYA SAXA!).  It all culminates in a spectacular finish at the Iwo Jima Memorial.

The crowd support along the course is good, but disappears completely at times due to the design of the course which takes you into inaccessible areas.  Also, as a former resident of the area, I know that the locals tend to get a little bit of fatigue over the number of races and events that take place there. Which, I know impacts the crowd levels.  However, if you familiarize yourself with the course, you can easily devise a walking plan to allow your family and friends to see you at multiple places along the course without overwhelming them.

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The Pittsburgh Half Marathon & Marathon feature spectacular downtown starts and finishes.

Possible Improvement? There are several out-and-back sections of this course, which I personally enjoyed, however they did lend themselves to course-cutters (for shame!).  This is also a heavily front-loaded course with some heavy dead spots in the second half of the race when runners are fatigued and need support the most.  The only other way to improve this race would be to insert 7 or 8 laps around the beautiful campus of Georgetown University, and present each finisher with a Georgetown Basketball jersey (like I said, I am a total homer!).

#4) Pittsburgh Half Marathon – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

As course design goes, one that keeps you in a downtown area while offering you great views of mountains, rivers, bridges, and a city’s skyline for most of the race is certainly worthy of praise, and that is precisely what the Pittsburgh Half Marathon offers (see our review of the 2014 event here: Part 1 & Part 2).  The hidden gem of this course is that it allows the spectators to move freely WITHIN the course via public transportation and walking, which amplifies the great local crowd support by allowing them to easily visit multiple viewing locations along the course.  On a personal note, I love that they have bathrooms available inside of the start corrals.  Considering that the city is surrounded by mountains, the fact that they were able to find a relatively flat course is pretty remarkable.  The downtown finish is pretty spectacular and won’t fail to get your heart pumping, even if you don’t stop for a celebratory cigar.

Possible Improvement? While the course is relatively flat, there is one large, and I mean large, climb towards the end of the course. This presents a significant challenge.  I am not saying that it should be eliminated, but merely that runners need to be prepared for this, as I do not believe that I was the first time I took it on.  So a little bit of course knowledge to help formulate your training can go a long way.  Also, given the magnitude of the climb, do not expect any spectator support along this section as no one seemed willing to make the trek up this hill.

#3) The runDisney Walt Disney World Marathon – Walt Disney World Resort, Florida

How in the world did a marathon make my top 3? Well, it must be a runDisney event.

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Is there a better race icon than this?

I was glad that I picked this to be my first marathon (check out the review of the 2014 event here: Part 1 & Part 2; and the 2015 event: Part 1 & Part 2).  Some hallmarks of this event are that it allows you to run through all 4 Walt Disney World theme parks, and then provides you with an optimal last 5 miles to help carry you through to the finish.  Seriously, the stretch from Hollywood Studios to the Epcot area Resorts, to the loop around Epcot’s World Showcase before sending you out through Future World and into the finishers’ chute could not be any more packed with non-stop excitement.

This event excels in terms of runners supporting their fellow runners and helping to will them to give it their all to get to the finish. This race also has a reputation of being a fun run as some runners will take the time to ride roller coasters and even enjoy some adult beverages while still out on the course.  Disney recently announced that it is closing the Walt Disney World Speedway, so be on the lookout for at least a small course re-design for the 2016 event.

Possible Improvement?  While this course does take you through all 4 Walt Disney World Theme Parks, be prepared that you do not spend all that much time in either Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, especially compared to the amount of time spent in those two parks during the Wine & Dine Half Marathon.  I would like to see the in-park time increased for as these are two amazing parks in which to run.  Additionally, there are 2 parts of this course where it lags a bit: before you get to Animal Kingdom and after you leave Animal Kingdom.  If you are looking for big crowds of spectators (especially in these two sections), this may not be the race for you. But as I said above, for me, this race makes up for itself in other ways.

#2) The runDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon – Walt Disney World Resort, Florida

What? How in the world did this event not make my #1? We truly have a march madness upset!

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One of the many benefits of running a nighttime race in Walt Disney World is experiencing the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

I already ran this race twice (you can check out my recaps of the 2013 (Part 1 & Part 2) and 2014 ((Part 1 & Part 2) events, and, even with breaking my foot during the 2014 event, I loved every minute of it.  Also, Jennifer, Jake and I are already registered for the 2015 event!

In addition to having all of the great hallmarks and entertainment of a runDisney event, this event is a rare night race. I love that the entire event takes place in the dark as the on-course entertainment appears to take on a much greater and grander scale, the “dead spots” on the course are not as noticeable as during the day time, and you get to run through 3 of the Walt Disney World parks at night (Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios).  Unlike the Walt Disney World Marathon, this course maximizes your time in Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, and event takes you through the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights.  This event also gets bonus consideration for being a point to point race that begins at the ESPN Wide World of Sports and ends at an all-night after party at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival.  Of course I love it.

One quick note on the value.  runDisney races are expensive, especially this one.  However, included in the cost of your race bib are (in addition to the race itself), entry into the after party, a free beer or wine at the finish, and a gift card to be used anywhere on Disney property.  So this is something to keep in mind when you get a little bit of sticker shock over the price of the event.

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And the winner is…the best race to witness the World of Color!

Possible Improvement? The only thing that I wish would be that the after party would be longer. It is advertised as lasting 6 hours.  However, this is a bit misleading as the after party begins at 10am, which is the same time the first corrals take off. This means that once you subtract the time waiting for your corral to start and the time to run the race itself, you are not left with a ton of time in what really is a great party.  So, you will have to adjust your after-party expectations accordingly. 

So what does that leave us for #1?….

#1) The runDisney Disneyland 10k – Anaheim, California

Talk about a real Cinderella Story! (Sorry folks, even I could not resist that pun. But, before you write in, yes I know Cinderella’s Castle is in Florida and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is in California).  While you are probably not surprised that a runDisney event took my top spot, you may be wondering how a 10k, and not a half marathon took home the top honors. The answer is simple: it is all about the course.  (You can check out my review of this event and our all-along-the-course YouTube video).

This course is AMAZING. The event starts in Downtown Disney to large crowds, which then thin out as you head towards the convention center, which is really the only “dead” stretch of the entire course, and it takes place in the first half mile, which is good as it allows you to settle in.   You then circumnavigate the Anaheim Convention Center, which, is quite (and surprisingly) nice early in the morning. I was surprised just how much I enjoyed this part of the race).  You then return to spend the rest of the time in the Disneyland Resort, and I mean all of the rest of the time.

The rest of the course maximizes your time both on and off-stage in California Adventure and Disneyland, takes you under the esplanade, back by the roundhouse (monorails!) and parade staging area, and has an exciting spectator-filled finish in Downtown Disney.  Also, you get several amazing views of the World of Color fountains, while you run. If there is a better race course anywhere I have not yet found it.  Best of luck to course designers and race directors everywhere to try and top this one!

Possible Improvement? The on-course entertainment and characters in the 2014 were probably the most lackluster of any runDisney event I’ve run.  Additionally, unlike Walt Disney World events, Disneyland events do not allow spectators into the parks early to line Main Street USA. Thus, the only ones present for this – admittedly emotional – portion of the race is runners and a few cast members.

Well, that will do it. 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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  1. Pingback: The Casual Runner | Wine & Dine: Accept, Adjust, Advance - The Casual Runner

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