Today the running husband and I ran in the Navigant Credit Union Cherry Tree Running Festival. If that isn’t the longest name for a race festival ever, each race has its own super long name. The half marathon is officially called the Navigant Credit Union Blackstone Valley Half Marathon and the 5k is officially the Navigant Credit Union Cherry Blossom 5k. This review will focus on the half marathon, which I ran.
Run in scenic Pawtucket, Rhode Island and the surrounding areas (Central Falls is the only city I remember), the race features a lovely course, friendly volunteers, and excellent traffic control. The race began in downtown Pawtucket at 8am. It was approximately 72 degrees at the race start and very sunny. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Packet pick up was in the Visitor’s Center – a modern building with clean bathroom facilities and a nice gathering area for waiting runners. There was plenty of easy to find, accessible, well-marked parking just a block and a half from the race start.
The course simply amazing. The organizers didn’t really do it justice in their advertising. Most of the race is run on the Blackstone Valley bike path that borders the Blackstone River. It’s a lovely, clear running river and a well maintained, picturesque path.
The course starts and finishes in downtown Pawtucket. Pawtucket wasn’t special, but runners were quickly ushered through the streets and on to the bike path. Uniformed police held traffic and did a great job of prioritizing the runners. There were orange cones noting the course on every roadway, volunteers with neon flags directing runners, and lots and lots of uniformed police officers. I never waited to cross the street and felt safe throughout the race. Though there was traffic, it was light, and the course was so well marked and monitored the runners were safe. See “Requests from the Back of the Pack” to note how much this pleases me. After running about 3 miles through city streets, the course headed west into a wooded area and along the Blackstone River . The course looped around through historical neighborhoods and scenic marshes. Finally, the course wound along the river, across a bridge or two, and returned to the start via the beautiful Blackstone Valley Bike Path. The Path was really, really lovely and I enjoyed running so much of the race along the bike trails.
In addition to being a beautiful, well-marked course, the course was New England flat. It had only a few moderate hills and was overall a nice, rolling course. Note the decent hill in mile 4. It’s worth note that the hill is in a particularly boring, urban area and in the full sun. That made the hill a bit more intense than it might otherwise have been. After the hill in miles 4-5, the course heads downhill and then flattens again. Overall, it was rolling to flat and I enjoyed the diverse scenery.
The Blackstone Valley Half Marathon was exceptionally well supported and organized. There were fluid stops every other mile that were staffed by friendly volunteers. Most water stations also had Gatorade – and not just any Gatorade, but three different flavors all from bottles. The Gatorade selection was quite remarkable. There were visible medical staff members, plenty of porta potties, and lots of amenities.
At the finish line runners were greeted with a mini bottle of water and a medal. The medal was pretty standard and the water was welcome. By the time the race was over (for me, at least), is was 85 degrees and sunny. I had run most of the race in the full sun, just cooking. I hadn’t run in weather warmer that 60 or so before this race, so running 13 miles in 80 degree plus temperatures was a struggle. I was very hot – and very thankful for the Gatorade, water, and shade. After finishing, runners were treated to delicious pizza, bananas, Powerbars (fruit smoothie variety), Powerade, and water.
The pizza was delicious and plentiful. I give a lot of credit to the race organizers for having enough water and pizza on hand to serve lots of hungry runners. In fact, they had so much pizza that volunteers were giving away pizza to anyone who walked by. If I have one complaint about the Navigant Credit Union Cherry Tree Running Festival it is this – the water was hot. At water stops and at the finish line the water wasn’t cooled in any way. Sitting in the sun, in 85+ degrees, the beverages were all hot. I could have made tea. I would have given someone a lot of money for an ice cold drink at the end of that race. Next year the organizers might want to consider really big coolers to keep the drinks cool.
A few things worth note – this race was really well organized overall and the attention to detail was impressive. I learned lots of useful information on the race’s Facebook page. I got helpful email updates as the race date got close. I even got an email with my official results 15 minutes after I finished. The race organizers really put in the extra effort to be sure runners were informed and up to date. One other thing that made me happy was that walkers were welcomed at the day’s events. I love any race that will welcome people of all abilities and treat them all with respect and consideration.
All in all, I enjoyed this race a lot. The course was stunning and it was well organized. I would definitely run the Blackstone Valley Half Marathon again and would recommend it to others. For the record, the running husband enjoyed the 5k. He reported that the course was flat, fast, and easy to navigate. Though it was about 90 by the time he ran, he got a PR thanks to the flat course.
A good time was had by all.
Race results (by Yankee Timing) and pictures (by Capstone and their chain-smoking band of photographers) can be found on Run Rhody. Race details, including a course map can be found on the event website.
Details for the running husband’s outfit (as dictated to Rachel): a clean shirt, Nike, standard fit, old. Adidas “active” shorts.