I’ve always been curious about the Vacation Races series. I seen them rise in popularity as folks shift away from running races in urban areas. Once you exhaust the Rock n Roll race series and the Run Disney races, this helps bring you back into nature.
One thing that Vacation Races repeats over and over again is that they rarely have courses INSIDE a national park. That seems important to cut down on resource wear and tear. Keep the wilderness beautiful! Races bring a lot of foot traffic, with potential for damage and litter, so it makes sense to keep us right outside. It’s okay though, since it typically still provides a scenic backdrop for running and allows you to visit the parks before or after your race.
This race was held at the end of July in the Colorado mountains, which typically means one thing…thunderstorms! We showed up at the packet pickup on Friday afternoon because we were running the Elk Double Challenge (5K on Friday, half marathon on Saturday). For out of towners, a Friday race be more difficult to swing, so I recommend getting the packets mailed to you. This race is quite far from the airport, and requires a rental car. (It is way too far for a Lyft or Uber.) Over the summer there was a rental car shortage, so it became very expensive for folks who were not local to the area. Just make sure to plan ahead.
The expo was held in a large open field. There were a few vendors for samples and purchasing. There is also a finish line expo for the half marathon, so don’t feel pressured to buy all of your swag at packet pickup. There was plenty of parking and the expo was a short walk through some grassy areas and tennis courts.
An hour or so before the 5K, it started raining very heavily. Dark clouds were moving in fast. It was some serious late-summertime Colorado rain. We started hearing thunder and seeing lightning, which typically cancels a race. We had a small pergola where we waited for the race to be called. By the time the race start rolled around, they kept pushing it out every 15 minutes. After about an hour we were able to start the race. It is a simple loop around Lake Estes. I remember there being at least one aid station. This is a cupless race, so you either need to bring your own hydration or get a free silicone flask at check in.
The next morning, the half marathon started without much fuss. The weather was just right. It was cool and overcast for the entire race, which made for lovely FREE race photos. There were a few aid stations and rolling hills, but nothing really serious. The course was protected or on sidewalks, so it was plenty safe.
I was very impressed at how well organized it all was. The free race photos are a great perk. The medals are also well designed, and they carry the national parks theme all the way down to the snack box you get at the end. I was one of the last finishers (of course) and they had plenty of snacks and electrolyte drinks left over. The post-race expo was also still set up with lots of swag for purchase.
All in all I recommend this race! There is a 4 hour time limit for the half marathon course, and they certainly deliver for the back of packers.