RACE REVIEW: NEW YEAR’S RACE (1/4/14)
“Should old acquaintance be forgot”… now run! 2014 (the year of the horse, in case you’re wondering) is upon us. And it’s time to make immediately good on that resolution to run more and work off those holiday treats. The New Year’s Race (Half Marathon and 5K) takes place the first Saturday of the New Year and to make things even more interesting, it’s a nighttime jaunt starting in downtown Los Angeles. Last year’s race was the inaugural event and like all first year races, was plagued by a few course and organizational hiccups (aka growing pains). This year’s race featured 5,370 runners (1656 for the 5K and 3714 for the half Marathon) all raring to get 2014 rocking.
Registration costs for this event were a little pricier than normal, as I shelled out $125 for the run, although there were plenty of opportunities for discounts (I myself saved $15 and being an Active Advantage member saved me those annoying “convenience charges”). Remember the gospel, the earlier you register the more you save. Packet pick-up was at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel (on Friday and race day). For those of you who can wait until race day in the future, I recommend it as the Expo was very very small and not worth your time (or parking cost). It seemed to be limited due to the size of the small event room the expo was wedged into and probably more vendors would have wanted to attend, but were unable. I was shocked as I need to buy a simple pack of GU Chomps and I didn’t see a single vendor selling them.
Since the race takes place downtown, transportation options are many. Rather than brave the costly chaos of parking downtown (and facing street closures/traffic) on a Saturday night, I opted to take the Metro line and avoid the headache entirely. One parking option is the Pershing Square Parking lot, normally $16 a day, but only $7 if you show your bib. But given the odd design of the parking structure (people crossing on the parking ramp) I think it might be better if you look elsewhere to park.
The New Year’s race, to be a little different, instead of offering tech T-shirts gave out hoodie sweatshirts. While the effort is certainly appreciated, this year’s sweatshirt was white in color (not my color) and will probably spend most of its lifetime in my closet. The swag bag also included a blinking bracelet to make the runners more visible. Again, high marks for the attempt, but the bracelet was too tight and cumbersome for my wrist, so again relegated to the discarded swag pile. The finisher’s medal was large, flashy and sporting an image of the LA skyline… not a bad bit of bling (the 5K finishers get a smaller medal). And worth noting, this is a sister race to the Hollywood Half Marathon (slated for April) and finishing both races nets you the “Best of LA Challenge Medal.” What it lacks in style, this extra medal makes up for in size. You could club a seal with this thing (but please don’t).
I can best sum up the course in three words “Dodger Stadium” and “hills.” This year’s course (tweaked since last year) features a windy and hilly course starting downtown at 7th and Grand. A few miles of downtown street running and you reach the heart of the course… Dodger Stadium and Elysian Park. Starting at mile 3, the course gets very hilly. As Angelinos know Dodger stadium is located at the top of a plateau near the Chavez Ravine. Basically from miles 3-9 you are running the streets, paths and parking lot around Dodger Stadium.
The hills can be a little daunting, but since you’re at times doing “out and backs” you know that at least for every hill you go up, you’ll get to go down at some point. The park roads and paths took on an added level of mystery thanks to the nighttime setting. Portable lights gave some illumination on the park roads (where there were no street lights) but you did at times find yourself running in low light and shadows. I found it to be rather calming.
Of course the highlight of the run came around mile 7 when you get to run through Dodger Stadium. I could see my fellow runners’ energy levels instantly pick up as we ran into the stadium, which was fully illuminated, including the scoreboards, and music blaring (Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” was playing during my lap). Many of the runners paused to snap of pics (note to Marathon Foto: you should have had a few more photographers at the stadium to capture candids) and made hiking up the hills worth it. As I was running around the Dodger Stadium parking lot, I saw a tremendous view of the LA skyline all lit up at night… it was definitely a Kodak moment (if I had had a camera).
After leaving the stadium, it was more running through the parking lot before emerging back to city streets around mile 9 and then city streets until we finished right near the Staples Center. It was certainly a challenging course, but if you’re in need of hill work and love baseball, then you’ll be happy you ran it.
One final note, it did seem that the course was a little bit longer than 13.1 miles (a trend I’m noticing more and more). Between miles 1-3, I came up a full tenth of a mile long, which doesn’t seem likely given that we were running down city streets and I was cutting corners (doing tangents). I confirmed this with several other runners, so I question if we might have ended up doing a 13.2 race… something officials might want to check for next year.
Services on the course felt a little lacking at times, but kind of understandable given that we were running through remote areas of the park. As for the starting line, things were pretty well organized. A few more port-a-potties would have been nice (and work on that sound system for next year), but it was enjoyable. Water stops were about every mile to mile and a half. They were understaffed (although many thanks to the volunteers) and it was hard to tell when we were getting water or Gatorade (some signage would have helped). Road signs (that looked like actual construction signs) appeared at each mile, although there were no digital clocks, so bring a watch.
FINISH LINE SERVICES/POST PARTY
A nice end to a fun race. We finished right near the Staples Center (the LA Kings game was just letting out too) and the scene was energetic. After receiving our medals and Mylar blankets, we received standard finish line food fare (bananas, water, chips and a moonpie cookie thing). Marathon Foto was there to snap finisher’s pics and we were corralled into the post race area where there were several trucks selling food and vendors handing out free samples. I made right for the beer tent for a little post race liquid carbo loading. I am a fan of the complimentary post race beer (although having to carry your ID is a little annoying). I could have stayed longer to celebrate, but things got a little chilly and my cold decided to re-appear (after mercifully laying mostly dormant during the run). So, I wrapped my blanket around me and made for the Metro Rail to head home.
While far from perfect and still in need of some improvements (much better than 2013 though), the New Year’s Race gives a great opportunity to kick off the year and get started on your running resolutions. I plan to be running the hills and running through Dodger Stadium again in 2015.