Who: Me, Colin, and Julie, with moral support from Drew and my dad
Benefited: The Rhode Island Brewers Guild
Photos tagged with RaceWire logos courtesy of RaceWire; others courtesy of Drew
Recap: Honestly, I forget how I heard about this race… I’m assuming it was via an active.com email or something similar, but whatever the medium, my interest was piqued. Just prior to my hearing about this race, Drew and I had been invited to a beer fest in Boston by some friends. We ended up not going, mostly due to the fact that tickets were more than $60 a pop and both of us find it hard to justify spending that much for a few hours of sampling beers while surrounded by drunk bros in a neighborhood of Boston that’s a giant pain in the butt for us to get to.
Enter the Craft Brew Races. As long as you register early enough, you get entry to the beer fest AND the race for just $45… or, if you just want to go to the beer fest, it’s $35 ($15 for designated drivers). Even adding in the cost of gas to drive to Providence, it was way cheaper than the Boston fest, plus it involved a race with swag. That’s what I’m talking about. I invited my friend and occasional soccer teammate Julie, who’s been known to crush an obstacle course race or two, and Colin, who’s working on expanding his beer palate, and our merry band of runner-drinkers set off to Rhode Island. (Our Boston beer fest friends were invited to join in the Craft Brew Races fun but turned us down. Laaaaame.)
There was a slight sense of disorganization upon our arrival at Burnside Park in downtown Providence… mostly just due to tons of runners in bright clothing wandering around in a small area. The email that race organizers had sent a few days prior to the race had mentioned that everyone should remember their assigned bib numbers to expedite the check-in process (normal enough), but it was a little disconcerting as the volunteers handing out bibs weren’t verifying our registration at all, and no names were attached to the bibs. (I had to double-check the email to make sure I hadn’t grabbed someone else’s number.) The email had said that our IDs would be needed for check in (which is why I thought there would be some sort of verification), but our IDs ended up just being for getting our beer fest bracelets. There were two (maybe three?) security guards checking IDs at the end of the bib pick-up area, and once they looked at your ID you walked a few feet to a table where volunteers were putting bracelets on people. The way it was set up I think it would have been pretty easy to get a bracelet without having your ID checked; there were just so many people swarming around that anyone could have avoided the guards to get to the bracelet table, especially if you entered the park from the gate behind the bracelet table, where there were no ID checks.
The starting line was roughly two blocks away from the check-in area, and the crowd started moving that way about 15 minutes before the race was due to start (at 11). Drew left us to find a good photo-taking spot by the starting line, and Julie, Colin, and I tried to find a good spot at the back of the crowd to do our warmups. This proved a little awkward, as the crowd of runners was pushed all the way back to the road barriers and traffic was still flowing just beyond those barriers, but we managed to squeeze at least a few stretches in. We were all planning to take this race easy, so we positioned ourselves towards the back and eagerly awaited the starting gun. We waited, and kept waiting, and waited a little more, as the crowd around us grew antsy and people kept standing on tip-toe to see what the hold up was. The PA lady was making announcements but we couldn’t hear her at the back, especially with loud music playing over her and the loud engine of the ambulance we were standing next to. A half-hour went by before we finally realized that we could kind of hear the national anthem, then the PA lady yelled “GO!” and off we went, with some lingering confusion. (Turns out there was some construction on the course that hadn’t been cleared in time. Drew was able to hear all the announcements during the delay and filled us in later.)
My shins started hurting pretty much from the get-go, and protested for the entire race. It certainly didn’t help that I had half-assed my warmup, but even if I had warmed up properly, I think the benefits would have worn off during the half-hour delay. The first half-mile was just bearable – we were going along at a steady pace after dodging around all the walkers who had started ahead of us, enjoying banter with other runners and checking out the buildings around us – then the pain really kicked in. The next mile and a half was torture. As we got to the last half-mile of the race the pain got bearable again… I don’t know if it was because I was finally warmed up by that point, or if I had just gotten used to the pain, but at least I didn’t feel like my shins were breaking anymore. I had worn a pair of my new compression sleeves in hopes that they would help, but they did diddly-squat. I think they work better for me as a recovery tool, rather than doing anything helpful while I run. Compression socks may be different, but I have yet to try those.
Apart from my raging shins, it was a pretty fun race. It wasn’t a full 5K; it ended up being 2.92 miles according to Simon, but the race organizers had warned us that might be the case in their email: “The Craft Brew courses are all very close to 5 kilometers/3.1 miles. Please remember, the Brew Races are first and foremost a celebration of each city and their craft brewing community with a secondary emphasis on a fun-run. The courses will not be USATF certified.” Totally fair. Some people were complaining about the course distance on social media afterward, but we were told about it ahead of time so I don’t know what their problem was. I enjoyed running through a new-to-me city (running-wise, anyway!), especially when the course took us past the street where Drew proposed to me a few years ago (cue sappy “awwwww”). And, given my angry shins, I was glad that the race wasn’t a full 5K!
There was one water stop a little after the first mile marker, with only one table and a few volunteers who were swarmed by runners. Even though I was thirsty, I didn’t want to stop because it was just a giant cluster of madness (volunteers hadn’t spread out like they usually do, so runners were just all stopped around the table). We did stop on the way back – the course was a loop – and it was less crowded but just as disorganized. At least there was water! And thankfully there was someone handing out water bottles right after the finish line. I had gotten a little chilly before the race started – it was overcast and a little breezy – but the humidity really hit during the race and the breeze didn’t reach between the buildings very well, so by the time we finished I think we were all a little overheated. I was thankful we didn’t have to wander far to find water.
After getting changed in the mall nearby, we decided to grab brunch before heading over to the beer fest. Ri Ra, an Irish pub, was pretty close to the park where the fest was located, and thankfully they did brunch until 2; with the delayed start we didn’t finish the race until after noon, and weren’t ready to eat until just about 1. The pub was nearly empty (which we were grateful for, since we were picturing huge lines of people… turns out they were all at the beer fest!) so we were seated right away and got our food quickly. It was a cozy pub, our waitress was friendly, and the food was delicious! I had PB&J stuffed french toast which was amazing, and the French press coffee was tasty too. Everyone seemed pretty happy with their food, and we were paid and out of there with plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the beer fest.
The beer fest itself was inside the Providence Rink in the Bank of America City Center. We were given a plastic sample-size cup upon entry, and were told no re-entry was allowed. There were a bunch of tents set up with many different breweries represented, and a good number of porta-potties were lined up outside the rink walls. We sampled from most of the breweries and, as at any beer fest, there were good beers and bad beers… and one terrible beer in particular. Drew, Colin, and Julie all tried this particular beer (which I feel bad naming, so I won’t) and the consensus was that it tasted like paint thinner. Ew. I was glad I had switched to water at that point! There were some non-beer tents there too – Polar was giving free samples of non-alcoholic drinks as well as free bottled water, and there were some food tents handing out samples as well. My five favorite beers sampled were (in no particular order):
- Sea Dog Sunfish
- Sea Dog Wild Blueberry
- Narragansett Del’s Shandy
- Newport Storm Rhode Island Blueberry Beer
- Shiner Ruby Redbird
(Clearly I enjoy fruity, wheaty beers and shandies. But, to save my beer cred a little, I also love dark, malty beers like porters and stouts… I just didn’t have any that I liked at the fest.) We were handed our free pint glasses as we left, and they were so much cooler than I was expecting – they were can-shaped instead of just regular ol’ pint glasses (since it’s hard to see in my picture above, you can see what they look like better here).
All in all, this was a pretty great race experience. There was some disorganization, yes, but this is also the inaugural year for the Craft Brew Races. I love that they’re doing a race in every New England state, and I’m sure they’ll be better organized in the future. If I had been gunning for a PR and trying to place I might have been annoyed at the dodgy course distance, but then again why would I come to a beer race – that plainly states it’s not a full 5K – to be that serious? Clearly this is the sort of race you just do for fun. It allowed me to check another state off my “Run a Race in All 50 States” goal, and it’s always fun to see a city from the new-to-me perspective of a runner. There’s definitely a good chance that I’d run a Craft Brew Race again in the future, especially if it were one in a different state with different breweries.