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Jul 1, 2013

Rockin' Relay Marathon - Detroit race review

Short Version
Finished as a 4-person team in 3:22:45 (A BQ if I would have ran that time alone. LOL)
Overall place:  6/52 teams
Division place:  1/18 teams(yeah us; a win!)
Overall pace:  7:44 pace
Race #48
Relay #2

Overall, I had a good time running with the #renewalrunners team thanks to Renewal by Andersen of Detroit.  I knew two of the runners I ran with on the team and met a new runner that follows my blog.  I ran with three fast woman that were awesome runners!  Not my most favorite of courses and overall some issues with organization but we had a good time regardless!


Registration/Packet Pickup
First off, I want to say the reason I was running this race was thanks to Renewal by Andersen of Detroit.  They had a contest on their Facebook page and I was one of the lucky winners to race with them at this relay.  They were a sponsor for this inaugural race in Detroit and I want to thank them for allowing me to run with their team.  If you are interested in running for their team with free race entries, go to their Facebook page HERE and "like" their page for future opportunities.

Registration for this race was done through Renewal by Andersen of Detroit.  They handled everything so all I had to do was show up.  The race website allowed for registration on their site and looked simple to sign up.  This race was run by Trivium Racing out of North Carolina and they have Rockin Relays throughout the country with their first ever stop in Detroit.  Because of this, I will cut the race management company a little break being their first time here so keep that in mind as I go through the review.
Renewal by Andersen of Detroit
It was a fairly early morning and I was up at about 5am to get down to Belle Isle where the race was to be.  I LOVE racing in Detroit even if it takes a little more time for me to get down there.  I wanted to get down there early, as I usually do, to be able to get all set up and ready to race.  I actually got down there a little after 6:30am.  The race company was still setting up the start area.  In fact, the registration tent, while pictured below was set up, the volunteers and race company were not ready at 6:30am. 

Since they were not ready, I decided to walk around and get some pictures of the area while I was waiting for them to open.  About 6:45am, they were ready and I was able to pick up the race packet for the entire team of four runners.  While I know the race company is from out of town, my thoughts are that if you have registration on your website stating it opens at 6:30am, be ready at 6:30am.  Regardless, there was plenty of time to get our packets before race start and everything worked out great.
Packet pickup race morning
Below is the bag that Trivium gave each relay team that had all the stuff necessary to race that day.  This included four race bibs, a baton, four timing tags and some energy bars and race flyers.  The company had the old Chronotrack timing chips that are zip tied to your shoes.  While they work just fine for timing, it is an extra step to put on your shoes and clip off at the end of the race.  It would have been nice to see the B-tag timing that is the new standard for timing races.

There was also a baton that we passed(which had to be returned) to each runner.  It was a real baton like what would be used for relays.  Of course, there really was no purpose for the baton but it did make it feel more like a relay with it to make it more fun.
Bag with team bibs, timing tags, baton
Start Area
As you can see below, the company was getting set up when I got there so they did not have their race area up yet but you will see it later in the review.  You can see our view to start is right towards the water looking over to Canada.
Setting up
Below, this is also part of our view.  I zoomed in a little give you a better view.  We have a tremendous resource with Belle Isle.  Unfortunately, the City of Detroit does not take care of it like it should.  In fact, recently, the State of Michigan offered to take over the management of it but Detroit refused which is crazy considering how the State takes care of other parks.  The views of the Detroit skyline are awesome on Belle Isle and it's a great place to run or bike.
Detroit Skyline
As you can see below, we were right next to the James Scott Memorial Fountain.  This is one of the best places on Belle Isle.  It's actually a very beautiful fountain but, again, Detroit has not taken care of it and the fountain was not working.  It's really unfortunate.  You can see below that the fountain had old dirty water in it and had been sitting for some time.  In addition, the grass around the area was probably a foot high and Detroit decided to cut it race morning.  Really?  Come on Detroit, get your act together!
James Scott Memorial Fountain
Looks like it has not worked this year
The statue is of James Scott who donated over $200,000 in the 1920's to commemorate himself. Ha!  Of course, it's no fault of the race company that things were not working so I don't put blame there.
Statue of James Scott
In regards to racing though, this really was a perfect place to set up a race for a relay.  As you made your way around the loop we ran, you could see the runners coming.  As you saw your runner coming, you had ample time to get ready because they had to run around the large fountain area so you could walk to the start area to pass the baton.  The place was well planned by the racing company.
Just prior to race start
The course was a 1.54 mile loop so that we would have an even 17 laps to run.  This meant that each runner needed to run at least four laps and one runner needed to run five laps.  Below gives you a good idea of the loop that we ran per my Garmin.  Of course, the logistics for this race were much easier than a typical relay where you need to bus people to each leg.  There was no need for that here since you could pick up a new runner as they came around the start.  While it works out great for the race company with logistics, it does make for a more boring course(although but not as bad as I expected) especially since I had to do five laps.  I think it would have been nice to use more of the island and set up longer legs but I understand there is much more planning and cost related to doing it that way.

The course was a very flat course even though it does not look like it from the Garmin map below.  Fortunately for us, we had four fast runners and ended up placing first in our group of the Mixed Men/Women group and sixth overall.  We were all very pleased with the results.
Map Per Garmin - 1.54 mile loops
Click to enlarge - 6th overall

Click to enlarge - pace per laps - 1st place in our group!
Note:  When I take pictures during the race, I don't change my pace or stop in the interest of safety.  I just keep running and I get what I can get from the pictures.  Some come out better than others but they give you a great idea of what the course is like.

The race let the teams decide how they wanted to run the course.  You could do it any way that you wanted as long as you got in 17 laps.  It also didn't matter who crossed the timing mat as long as you crossed it 18 times to finish.  This meant you could have multiple runners running at one time if you wanted to just run more laps for fun since it did not double count it.  Five laps was enough for me especially since I was running this between 5k and 10k paces.  In fact, I could still feel my legs were a little stiff on this morning's run.

While, I mentioned the course was boring, really, it's only because of the amount of loops I did.  We ended up starting with me doing the first three laps of seventeen laps.  We decided that it would be best to run at least two loops at a time each.  What was interesting was how this was going to effect us.  I ended up running laps 1-3 and then laps 10-11.  I didn't mind being the one that had to do the extra lap since I was not planning on my long run.  By doing two laps each, this allowed us to recover from our fast run and then go out again fast.  In addition, this way we didn't have to run a leg and then sit around for so long.  It really got you feeling how you would do if you ran a 5k and then decided to run a 5k another 45 minutes to an hour later.  I think we all did an awesome job with it.  I would never run a full marathon like this but the course really was not designed to do that anyway since it was set up as a relay race.

As you can see from the course pictures below, we got some nice views of a lake inside Belle Isle, the Detroit river, the fountain, and various other monuments on Belle Isle.  Not only this, it was a park atmosphere so while you didn't have closed roads for the course, you also didn't need to worry about cars much either.  Of course, it's Belle Isle so it really is overall a great place to run and would be incredible if Detroit just took care of it better.

Coming over the red bridge near the Belle Isle Casino building was my favorite part of the course.

Lake on left, Detroit River on right
Park area
Outdoor music stadium on the left
Coming over the bridge to the Belle Isle Casino(not the gambling kind-its just called that)
Carillion Clock
Coming back towards the start - Detroit in background
View of Canada
Detroit River on left

Another loop! Ha!
Coming through the start area
The bridge by the Casino that we ran over
Carillion Clock...again
Coming up to the Casino building
Towards the fountain with Detroit skyline in the background
The Team
We had four of us running the event including myself.  There was Alexis(click HERE for her blog), Karly, and Megan(click HERE for her blog) running with me.  All ladies were super speedy and really the reason we were able to place first in our mixed group.  Since I had some down time between my running, I had an opportunity to get pictures of them all running.  Alexis and Brandon also got a picture of me running too!  I have to say that this was one of the best parts of doing a relay is the opportunity to talk with the other runners on your team as you were waiting for your next leg and the finish.  You also had the opportunity to eat/drink and listen to the band playing.  This reason alone would be one of the only reasons I would run a relay again like this with the loops.  It really was not as bad as I thought it would be.  We decided to run in all four of us together at the finish line which the race said they were ok with and most teams did that as well.

You can also see that we had an incredible background with the City of Detroit Skyline in these pictures.
Photo courtesy of Brandon, Renewal by Andersen of Detroit - Great background!
Thanks to Alexis for this pic - Do I look angry? lol
Alexis killing it!
Karly killing it!
The hand off!
Megan enjoying it!
Megan's signature thumbs up!
Aid Stations
The race had two aid stations set up.  One was set up as you see below and there was another one set up just after the start line.  While I understand that the loop was a small 1.5 mile loop and not really necessary to have water on the course, I would have liked to see the race put up an aid station half way out to give runners some water.  In addition, both of these aid stations were in terrible locations with unprepared volunteers.  Don't get me wrong, it was nice to have the volunteers out there to help but as I passed the aid station just after the start, they were more in the way than helping.  A quick five minute training session about how an aid station works is all that the race company needed to make it better for the runners.  Consequently, I ran over three miles without getting water and then got some after two loops but it slowed me down.

In addition, the aid station below was not really set up for the runners while running since it was not properly placed.  They could have set the aid station up an 1/8 of a mile from the fountain area and it would have worked perfectly.  I'm sure the thought process of the race was that if runners finished a lap, they could get water when done but it seemed many teams did more than one lap so the race should have been prepared to help runners.  The race offered Gatorade and water.  Some minor changes by the race company and this could be corrected very easily.  It did not seem organized.

I didn't bring my water bottle that I usually run with because I knew I would be carrying a baton and a camera.  In retrospect, I wish I would have brought it with me.
Water / Gatorade
Finish Area
Of course, the finish area was right where the start area was located since we were running loops.  After about 3-4 laps, the race put out food for the runners to eat including, fig newton cookies(which I love), pretzels, trail mix, popcorn, bananas and orange slices.  It was a nice variety to choose from.  You needed to make sure you didn't fill up too much between legs so I kept my eating to a minimum until after I finished my legs in the race.
Orange slices, bananas, popcorn, trail mix, pretzels, fig newtons
The race also had a band set up at the start/finish area.  They were not bad but it seemed it took them some time to get set up since they had not started playing until after I finished my first three laps.  It was nice to have them there though once they were set up to give the runners some music as we passed this area.  The race also had a couple other areas on the course where there was music.  One of our runners heard commercials, so it was from the radio, but mostly what I heard was music.
Band by the fountain
Now this was the prize at the end of the race!  Beer at the finish of a race is always awesome.  In this case, the race management company had two kegs with Labatt's and Oberon.  Yeah, no cheap beer at this race and great choices.  It was a nice detail to the race and, for the record, I only had 11am. lol!
Beer! Oberon and Labatt's - nice!
For your race entry, you received a timed event with a couple aid station.  You received finish line food and a band at the start/finsh area.

You also received a race tech shirt.  Since I was running with the #renewalrunners, I also received an updated Renewal by Andersen of Detroit Race shirt which are nice looking.  The race tech shirt also is nice and a different design as the front of the shirt looks like a concert ticket.  As I've said in the past, I'm not a fan of white shirts but this one has some nice color on it so it will get worn.

We also received a cool guitar shaped medal.  I'm a medal guy as you know!  I like the shape of it but I'd like to see it be more substantial(read: larger!) but it was different.  I think the race management should have taken advantage of it and done a customized ribbon as well instead of just a plain black ribbon.

Because we also placed first in our group, we also all received frosted mugs as the group awards which adds to my race mug collection.
Renewal by Andersen Front Shirt
Renewal By Andersen back of shirt
Race shirt front - it's a rock concert ticket
Back of race shirt
Medal close up
Mug for winning our division
While I've given the race management the benefit of the doubt for being their first race in Detroit, there are some issues that should be corrected.  The first item was NO port-o-potties.  Really?  That is insane!  On a side note, there were bathrooms available in the Casino building but they were not next to the start area and they were also locked at first.  Also, according to my running partners, the woman's bathroom only had one roll of TP.  Because this was not a large race, it seems to work Ok but I think a couple port-o-potties would be certainly necessary.  Perhaps this issue was not in the race managements control as we heard they had some issues with the City of Detroit about it, but regardless, it should have been corrected prior to the race.

The packet pickup was a bit late.  I'm one that is on time and if the race says on their website, they will be open at a certain time, they need to follow it.  No excuses for this in my opinion.

Aid station organization should have been better.  You need to provide available water on the course with volunteers that know what to do.  Again, this is something that a race company that has been going around the country should already know.

Finally, the beer tickets.  There was supposed to be a place to pick up tickets for beer but we didn't see them.  The race organizer let me get mine without a ticket but they just needed to be prepared for it.  A few minutes later they changed it to a bracelet after you showed ID so you could get beer.  That worked fine and probably should have been set up this way to begin with.

While it sounds like a lot of issues, frankly, all of these items are very easily corrected.  I'm sure dealing with the City of Detroit has it's own issues and hopefully, if the race comes back next year, it will take this into consideration and talk with the City well before to work out any kinks.

Overall, I enjoyed the event.  Would I do the event again?  Well, I think they need to work on the race a little more first.  I like running Belle Isle but I'm not a big fan of the 17 laps, although it did make it nice to talk with your team over the course of a few hours.  It seems more of Belle Isle could be utilized in the race.  I did enjoy running as a team and I most certainly will do another relay again in the future but I think I'd want to do it under a different format.  Some of you might like the way it's set up for the repetition.  I'll just finish by saying it was good company running with Renewal by Andersen of Detroit and the three fast women below but an Ok race overall.
Renewal runners team - Karly, Alexis, Megan and me!
Detroit Skyline from Belle Isle
Have a great day and....Keep Running!!!!

Note:  I received a free entry in this relay courtesy of Renewal by Andersen of Detroit to run on their #RENEWALRUNNERS team as part of a Facebook contest they did.  I was not required to provide any commentary on them or the race.  All opinions on this blog post are my own and I was not paid or required to give a particular opinion or even required to write the post.  This review is just for the benefit of my readers.


  1. Great review, as always, Jeff! Very fair. I would agree on all points and say only "major" issues were the bathroom situation and lack of easily accessible water while running. Had a blast meeting everyone and running for #RenewalRunners. :)

  2. Beer solves a lot of problems........ LOL. I was wondering what team strategies would be, I assume you guys switched each loop?

  3. Wow, you guys rocked it, well done! I'm not a great fan of relays. I've done a few but they were all point to point. With laps I always do the solo option if available.

  4. Hey Jeff, thanks for the review. A bit critical on some things where the the facts weren't quite straight but overall we are happy with the criticism and are the first to be critical of ourselves. We want to continue to grow and become a better company. (PS there were two port o potties over by parking ( we didn't want them to be on the course smelling it up_

  5. I actually really am interested in more peoples opinions on water stops on a 1.5 mile loop. We actually didn't set it up for any water stops. The 1st you had mentioned wasn't a water stop by a place for people to get water in between legs and the second was for solo marathoners. My general thinking is that the race is set up for alternating laps (although you can do it other ways) and you can get water at the end of a 1.5 lap. Opinions?

    1. Hi Richard ~ I think the issue was more the fact that the water wasn't very accessible when running. If the water just past the start line had been set up with prefilled cups to grab or if the volunteers were better able to pass out fluids as you ran by, it would have worked better. I couldn't get water on any of my 4 laps. Each time I passed the volunteers were either chatting, picking up trash or handing water to another runner. It wasn't a big deal to me because I hydrated ahead of time, but if you wanted water while running multiple laps, it didn't work out very smoothly. The self-serve water over by the food tent worked fine, but there's no way I would have wanted to stop and wait in line to fill a tiny cup while running.

      As for an aide station out on the course, I think it's not a necessity, but might have been nice simply to provide support/first aide to the many families/children who seemed to be walking the course.

      I have run lots of races and think Jeff had a pretty fair assessment as a runner. We all have a lot of respect for the challenges faced by race directors and certainly the City of Detroit probably added some extra layers of complication. Thanks for the fun relay!

    2. Richard - I agree with Karly that water on course was not nessessary but need access to what you had for the runners doing more than one lap(as I'm sure many do). Of course, if we were required to do only one lap, it would not be an issue.

      I appreciate you confirming there were port-o-potties. You just need to announce where they were since we could not see them near the start. Probably a little closer to start so they could be seen would work great. Good luck with future events.