I couldn’t have chosen a better race to close out my 2014 race year with! Between it being a well organized race, being somewhat familiar with the course from previous visits to Busch Gardens, and feeling great throughout the race, the 2014 Christmas Town Dash 8k has set a high bar for my first couple of races in 2015.
Preston and I have always been interested in visiting Busch Gardens during the annual Christmas Town celebration. Last year I heard about the Christmas Town Dash 8k, and had kept it in the back of my mind throughout the year. Each year, Preston and I like to do a Christmas celebration just the two of us. Sometimes its included a night out on the town, and in 2011 it included a trip to New York City to see The Rockettes. This year we decided to head to Williamsburg for the weekend in order to enjoy Christmas Town, and to also run the Christmas Town Dash.
We drove down to Williamsburg late Friday evening. First thing Saturday morning we headed to packet pickup, which was held at the local Dick’s Sporting Goods. We found packet pickup to be very organized and efficient. Our goody bag included two discount coupons to Busch Gardens – one for 50% admission to Christmas Town and one for 50% admission to Busch Gardens next spring or summer. Those discounts alone covered the cost of race registration. We also received a long sleeve tech tee and a coupon for a free Chick-fil-A sandwich.
After picking up our packets we spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon at the outlets finishing up our Christmas shopping. Because of the rain, we debated spending the rest of the day at Busch Gardens, and I’m so glad that we ultimately decided to brave the bad weather. The park was pretty much empty, we got to enjoy several shows, and even got to ride a roller coaster in the light rain.
The race was Sunday morning. It was cold and a bit windy, but nowhere near as cold as it was for our Turkey Trot Thanksgiving morning. The race started and finished at the Busch Gardens parking booth plaza, and we were able to park a short two minute walk from the start. This allowed us to wait out the cold and windy air in the car until just before the start of the race.
Half of the race was in the parking lot, and the other half of the race was in the park itself. We ran the first mile and a half in the parking lot before entering the park in Ireland. We ran through every country at Busch Gardens before exiting the park out of Ireland, and then ran the last almost two miles in the parking lot again. My one and only complaint about this race was that the second parking lot part of the race included lots and lots of turns.
There was lots of entertainment throughout the race. Just outside of the park entrance and exit there was a DJ playing music and keeping us runners pumped. Inside of the park the usual Busch Gardens music was playing in each country. Along the course I spotted the Chick-fil-A cow (Chick-fil-A was one of the race sponsors), a snowman, and several of Santa’s elves. And the bridge between Germany and Italy was lined with Marines, who gave us high fives as we ran past them. Receiving high fives from them was definitely the highlight of my race day experience.
Those who are familiar with Busch Gardens know that it is a hilly theme park. A year ago I would have been scared of tackling all of the hills. However, I felt super confident throughout the race and never felt overly tired. I was able to successfully maintain four minute run/1 minute walk intervals for the entire race. Although I apparently started RunKeeper in stopwatch mode instead of GPS mode and never knew my exact pace during the race (which I was very worried about), I was able to crush all three of my goals and finished the race in 52:07 (10:29 pace). And since this was my first 8k, it was an instant PR!
After I crossed the finish line, I received my medal from a Marine Sergeant Major, who not only put my medal around my neck but also shook my hand in congratulations. Receiving my medal from him was the icing on the cake of an incredible race experience.
Some of the pros of the race included:
- Lots of pre-race communication from the event organizer, both by e-mail and on Social Media
- Packet pickup was efficient and well organized
- Plenty of parking attendants to direct traffic once we arrived at Busch Gardens
- Plenty of porta potties in the start/finish area (I waited less than five minutes before the start of the race)
- Lots of on course entertainment and support
- The course was well marked
- Two water stops with plenty of volunteers
- Low registration cost with lots of race goodies, including a long sleeve tech shirt and 50% coupons to Christmas Town and Busch Gardens in 2015
- Plenty of post race water and hot chocolate
The few cons of the race included:
- The last almost two miles of the race included lots of zig zagging and turns in the parking lot
- Very limited post race food options (only bananas and granola bars were available)
This race was a great experience, and Preston and I are already talking about making a return trip to Christmas Town in 2015!
QOTD: Did you, or do you plan to, run a holiday themed race?