Sometimes…the important thing is to just GET OUT THERE…

It’s a new year…with a new set of goals…and a new reason to get out there. With such lofty goals as a 22 hour 100 miler and a sub-4 hour marathon… no training opportunity can be passed up. That said… when presented with the opportunity to run a half-marathon in an otherwise mostly race-barren month… who am I to say no? So, off I went to Plymouth for Winter Warlock 2017.

Let’s just say… it didn’t go exactly how I thought it would… in a number of ways. I’m still trying to decide how I feel about that. 

(Disclosure: I was provided a complimentary registration to this event – this was not payment or compensation of any kind, nor did it influence my review. As always, all opinions are honest and my own.)

I’m a race junkie.

Anyone that knows me knows I love a good race. They’re fun, and they’re a great opportunity to get out there, push yourself, and see where you’re at. Competition, whether against yourself or others, is the true litmus test of your current fitness level and athletic ability – it makes you push in a way you wouldn’t on any normal day. So, like I said…when presented with the opportunity to run a race…I just can’t pass it up. Not every race, however, is the most spectacular event to land a permit.

I always give the benefit of the doubt.

I can’t help myself, really – I’m a bright-sider. When you preach positivity for so long you kind of can’t help but just live that way on a daily basis. It’s my curse, what can I say? So when a race isn’t perfect…I tend to downplay shortcomings, make up excuses, and sugar-coat mistakes that were made. Sometimes, yes, there are perfectly reasonable explanations… and sometimes, sure, its understandable how something happened… but sometimes…

You have to call it like you see it.

When I ran Winter Warlock this past Sunday…I had mixed feelings. I decided it was best to stick as close as I can to my “5 Keys To A Great Race” as a means to rate the race…and we’ll see where the chips fall. (If you haven’t already read “5 Keys...”, click here and read it so this makes sense.) Let’s dive right in. FAIR WARNING – this is gonna be a little long… there’s a lot of things I feel the need to mention.

Winter Warlock Recap & Rating based on my “5 Keys”

If you just want the score, scroll through for the headers and the total at the bottom. 

Pre-Race – 7

Pre-race is a tough category for me to really judge on since I actually signed up as a same-day on-site registration, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share what I heard from many people.

Take this with a grain of salt, as it was not my personal experience: I’m in a hyper-local running-focused Facebook group where a lot of people complained that it was just days before the race and they hadn’t gotten any correspondance. Just before the event (Friday 1/13/17 at 11:14 am) someone said they DID receive an email, which they forwarded to me. For the most part, the email had all the info you’d want… but it seems aside from a sign-up confirmation…this email Friday morning before a Sunday race was the only thing they heard from the race.

Had I personally been in these shoes, how I felt may have adjusted my ranking. As it stands, I had a pretty average pre-race experience – the information I needed was online and available, and I was able to show up on race day to sign up.

Winter Warlock GPS IssueRace Day – 6

I’m honestly really disappointed on this category. First thing on the list of “Race Day” is showing up. Well…take a look at the photo here and you’ll see the issue.

Google sabotaged us.

The race website, email, and registration page all tell you the race begins and ends at Plimoth Plantation, with a GPS-friendly address of 137 Warren Avenue. That address is also where Google Maps/Navigation takes you when you type “Plymouth Plantation”, and it’s the address on Plimoth Plantation’s website. Naturally, one would assume this is the right place. On race day, though, when I followed those directions it took me to a beachside restaurant…NOT Plimoth Plantation. Fortunately I’m a smart cookie and know how to bang a u-turn and follow road signs to Plimoth Plantation (3 minutes away). If you’re not from around here…this could’ve been a big problem.

My dilemma here… 

is that I WISH the race director had clarified this, but I can also see how this could easily happen…and Lord knows it won’t happen again (I hope). It’s the first year he’s held this at Plimouth Plantation, and I think we locals all take for granted that we know how the hell to get there. So, to be extra helpful, he hops on the website or google maps and finds the actual ADDRESS of it for non-locals. Well…frankly, even if he HADN’T provided that GPS address, everyone’s GPS STILL would’ve taken them there, except we’d be blaming Google or Apple and not the race director. Should he have done that extra step? Sure. Is it ultimately all his fault some of us landed in the wrong place? Maybe not. I did…and I didn’t follow the faulty address he gave.

The mixed-bag of “race day” experience continued…

Once I DID find the entrance to Plymouth Plantation…well, there was no sign or indication of “hey this is where you go to park” or “EVENT HERE”. The entrance off the “main road” had no signage, so once I figured out I had driven by the best & only entrance…I turned around (again, GPS kept telling me there were more “access roads” to get in…false).

Once I actually turned IN to Plimoth Plantation, there was a volunteer that directed me to the main parking lot. Ample parking there, but no sign to the registration area. I understand this is a little thing, and yes I figured it out by following the crowd and looking around for a minute…but I shouldn’t have to “figure it out”.

Once you got in the building… things were good.

Winter Warlock pre-race photoSame-day registration was a snap, and it looks like pre-registered number pick-up was pretty easy, too. I even got a t-shirt as a same-day! Though, in hindsight, I think benches may have been set up between the same-day reg table and the shirts as a “you can’t come in here”…oops. Didn’t seem like it at the time.

Plimoth Plantation’s indoor bathrooms were open/available (which was nice) and there were port-o-johns outside (ample bathrooms). I happened to be outside in the 15 minutes prior to the race, but it seems clear there was an indoor announcement telling people to get outside for the start. Start notification while outside? My only indication was when everyone started migrating behind the start line. Meh, that’s pretty normal I think.

But our final send-off was less than stellar.

The pre-race “speech” came off kind of gruff and bothered me a bit. It was somewhat… passively… condescending maybe? It was a bit preachy and had a very “don’t-complain-please” attitude, which could’ve easily been sarcastic (just like Paul Clark at the Cambridge Classic 5K’s) except…you  could tell he was serious and not laughing it off or anything.

He made a point of saying if you win something stick around because he’s NOT mailing awards, hey we bought you some nice food so stick around after, can-i-get-a-clap, I love headphones but USATF doesn’t so I don’t buy insurance from them, etc. I dunno…I just feel like he could’ve delivered the exact same info but in a cheery way that left everyone pumped up and ready to rock. After that, we began the race about 6 minutes late…with no apparent reason for the lateness. Not the best way to go off. :/

The Course –  6

Winter Warlock offered a 5K & 10K (just like the first time I ran it a few years ago) and also offered a half-marathon and 18 mile option. I opted for the half-marathon, so that’s what I’m speaking on. The half-marathon course itself was nice enough – rolling hills, some flat parts, some paved road, some dirt road. It was an out and back, with the far half of the out/back being on Old Sandwich Road – the oldest dirt road in the country. It was kind of cool (and I’ve run that road before), despite intense potholes in the first 2 miles of OSR (not the race’s fault, and he DID warn us about it).

I DID have three main complaints which docked points:

1.) Traffic management & thus, runner safety, concerned me.

Cops WERE present at major intersections…but the rest of the course was the concern…I didn’t see any road signs alerting motorists of a road race in progress (or coming, for days before). The course was not closed, and we weren’t instructed to keep tight to the shoulder or anything. As such, people mostly took up the entire side of the road in the first half of the race. This effectively blocked a side of the street and created a little bedlam when a car would try to pass & come upon an oncoming car. Add into that people starting to turn around in the middle of the street at the 5K & 10K turnarounds…eek. That part felt a little… thrown together maybe?

2.) Course marking.

Just like there was no “hey, this is where you park for the race” sign when you arrived for registration…well, that’s exactly where a “hey, turn here to finish the race” sign should’ve been. There wasn’t. This was the ONLY signage issue on an otherwise well-marked course…but unfortunately it was an IMPORTANT course marking to miss. I figured out where to go because, again, I’m a smart cookie and I recognized that the finish area was down the same road we went to park. I heard many people who were much faster than me cruised right by it and ran too far.

But the third, and arguably biggest issue (for me)?

3.) The half-marathon course was .6 miles short.

I can understand maybe a tenth (.1) of a mile… but having your half-marathon course over half a mile short… Sorry, but it’s kind of an essential basic that your race needs to  be the distance you advertise. That could’ve been easily avoided by just a little more care when dropping your turnaround marker. That was a big deduction. It seems all the other race turnarounds were correct…well, that’s nice…but I ran the half-marathon 12.5 miler, so that’s what I’m speaking on. TO HIS CREDIT, when I chatted with the race director post-race he DID own up to the short course before I even mentioned it…but man, when did you figure it out? When one of the Cambridge Classic 5K’s was too long due to a police/lead car error…they told us. Tell people you whoopsied, make an announcement, an apology…SOMETHING. Just acknowledge it.

Winter Warlock Turnaround MarkersAlso – just realized…the email broke down where water stops were. The water stops doubled as the turnarounds. It’s very clearly and intelligently laid down – 1.5, 3.1, 6.1, and 9 miles. All appropriate half-way turnaround points… except… 6.1? So where and when in the process did the “whoopsie” on the distance ACTUALLY happen? *sigh*

Swag / Support – 7

There was an EMT and ambulance on-site and available. Check. There were 4 water stops, which really meant for the half-marathon 12.5 miler I got 5, not 3. Check. Swag – already mentioned there was a nice enough long-sleeve tee for the race (said all 4 distances on it), and there WAS a finisher’s medal for the half-marathon 12.5 miler and 18 miler.

It seems there was a lack of volunteer help, though.

I WAS a bit bothered that there was nobody handing out medals at the finish – I looked around for the medal hander-outer person…nothing. Like, if my wife hadn’t pointed out the small tupperware of medals on the ground after the finish arch I would’ve completely missed it. That…idk…just feels like a basic thing. Stick someone at the finish to hand out medals. I was a little bummed at the medal itself, too – it was kinda cheap & generic. Didn’t really feel special. I don’t know much about races and medal purchasing, so who knows how much those things cost…but I’ve run half-marathons that cost the same and have a much nicer, race-specific medal. Oh well.

No finish-line photos either, which weren’t advertised or promised, so not docking points…I guess its just something I’ve come to expect at races, whether its free or for profit. Guess maybe I’m spoiled. So…overall…average on the swag/support.

Post-Race – 7

Post-race wasn’t bad…just wasn’t mind-blowing. Once you crossed the finish, water was available right there (grab it yourself, ok…no problem). No signs directing you to the post-race party…but again…smart cookie. Followed the crowd and found it – wasn’t hard. The email said the post-race party was “catered”. It was a nice enough spread, for sure – little scones, pastries, fruit, coffee and tea. I’m not complaining, I guess I just pictured…something…more… when I hear “catered” and someone makes a big deal about saying “we bought some nice food for you” at the pre-race speech. But, hey, catered food was promised, and catered food was provided.

It bothered me that it ran out so fast, though.

While Megan was keeping warm she told me all the spectators went to that room and piled plates high – I could’ve sworn I saw someone with a cookie, but I saw none on the table. By the time the last runners came in, not much was left (if anything). The very last runner…nothing was left.


The race director rushed over to congratulate him and threw himself at the guy offering to get him whatever he needed in terms of food or drink – that was nice to see. Also to his credit – during the “awards ceremony” (which was so unceremonious I hesitate to call it a ceremony) when people WEREN’T there to accept their awards…he DID say “we’ll make sure to get that out to them”. Was it reflex, or is he really gonna mail those awards? I’d like to think the latter.

Winter Warlock Overall Rating – 66/100 (D)

Sunday runday winter warlock

Would I recommend Winter Warlock??

I mean, shoot, you see my complaints laid out in black and white right here – if those get cleaned up I’d recommend it all day. It’s a nice, challenging little course with a 13.1 & 18 mile option in the dead of winter where there aren’t typically a lot of options. People gotta train for Hyannis & Boston, right?

Will those complaints & mistakes get cleaned up?

I’d like to think so, yes. In all honesty, I went into this race expecting kind of a mess  – complaints about past Plymouth Rock Racing events flew around online. That’s all neither here nor there – we’re talking about Winter Warlock, and overall, despite my concerns (which I did dock points for), I had a pretty good experience.

TO BE FAIR –  I interviewed four different participants about (among other things) their experience. All four of them had nothing but good things to say and had a positive experience. For all the rumblings and complaining Megan said she heard on-site from the 5K, 10K’ers, & fast half-marathoners it appears there were plenty of people that had a good experience, too.

Like I said, I’m a firm believer in “the benefit of the doubt” and positive change. 

As far as I’m concerned, Winter Warlock 2017 looked, overall, like a move in the right direction…improving on some things that had been a source of complaints in the past. There’s still some work to do, but we’re getting there. Let’s continue improving and moving forward, PRR – the more good races and options we all have…the better 🙂