Are Online Reviews Legits? (previous title: “Why Giulietta e Romeo Hotel in Verona sucks like hell?”)

Wonderful outside view on the ... ahem ... air conditioning system

Wonderful outside view from your room on the … ahem … air conditioning system

My recent trip to Verona brought me to book a hotel in the city center to attend a conference. Before booking, I tried to have a look at online reviews in order to make my mind and decide where to stay. I am not usually very picky about where I am going, the main guidelines at quiet room, some space, good internet connection and if possible, having an early breakfast. So, I figured out that reading what previous guests thought would be a good idea.

At the same time, an article from the print issue of consumer report reported that online reviews were often not legit and owner of touristic places used to pay for good (to add some value and convince people to come to their property) or bad (to convince people not to go to their competitor) reviews. They even reported that consumer-driven site (such as Angieslist) are not so helpful. And it seems to be a big deal: business owners are actually suing google, arguing that bad reviews cause them to run of out business.

I decided to give a try and after reading different online reviews (using tripadvisor, google and booking.com), I choose to go to the hotel Giulietta e Romeo. Located in the city center, close to the shuttle for my conference, it seemed to be a good bet. So, I booked this hotel for four nights. It was expensive ($300/night) but the other hotels were pricey as well. So, I figured that the places around will be expensive no matter what.

Once I got there, the nightmare begun: the room was small, the staff rude and inappropriate, the machinery from the elevator woke me up at night. Clearly not something that could be considered as a 3 starts hotel but rather a 2 stars motel, the only good aspect would be the location.

The room is well ... small

The room is well … small

Of course, I did complain to the hotel, saying even sometime like “I was no longer expecting something good from them” but they did not even care. After all, they were just rude, inappropriate and did not provide a room or a service that can be considered 3 stars. There was nothing I can do about it. I figured it could be useful to report it to the same websites I read before booking to let people know other places might be a better bet.

Before writing my feedback, I tried to look at few reviews where people complained to see if other folks had similar problems. Surprisingly, they were treated aggressively by the staff, which deny that they might have done something wrong. Sounds I was not alone! But from a business perspective, such a behavior does not make sense: such an answer would just increase the customer frustration that would eventually impact the reputation of the hotel. I remembered having one issue (bad type of bed – two double beds instead of a king) with a hotel in Orlando, FL (the Orlando Radisson Resort) and I was astonished by how the staff answered to my complain: they acknowledged, apologized and offered a compensation for the inconvenience just after giving me the right type of room. That is what one call a good customer service!

But having posted an online review about my experience, the staff answered only after a couple of hours in (what I would consider) a rude and pretentious way. Basically, they denied what I reported, providing weird arguments and reasons (for example, the reply reported that the phone was not working because I do not know how to make an international call – something I hopefully know how to do after living abroad since 6 years). Again, I do not understand why the hotel replied to the review like this: it does not make any sense but to prove that they are even care about how people feel about their hotel and how to improve the customer experience. This is something that can do nothing but degrade their reputation.

The take-away from that experience? Online reviews might not be as legit or helpful as you might think. And it seems that fake reviews is real and potentially a big business. A place or a product with plenty of good feedback might not be the good bet you are looking for and just financially supported by their owners to get good comments! Comparing the two hotels I was talking about earlier? The worst got 93% of good reviews while the one that was the most comprehensive and customer-friendly got 59%. After checking to some other location I visited before, it seems that having good review is not so helpful.

So, before choosing a place to stay or a product, do not over think about it. Looking at online reviews might be helpful but trying to make your mind with pictures, potential advises from friends or just common sense (in my case, something that could have triggered my mind is that such a name could be a trap for tourists!) might even be better. So, just follow your own judgment and if you go to Verona, avoid this spot, at least, this review is a legit one!

Running after and EP Study with Ablation

Several weeks ago , because I had many palpitations and issues related with my heart (heart rate increases as much as 200 bpm without any reason), my doctor recommended to make an Electro Physiology study (also known as EP Study) and potentially remove abnormal electric path in my heart that can trigger additional unexpected heartbeats. The diagnostic was not really a big surprise: I experienced such issues since many years (it happened the first time in Italy 10 years ago) and there is a history of heart-related issues in my family and some of my relatives went for surgery years ago. But recently, it started to occurs quite often especially when being at rest. There was a choice to take: try to do something about it or let it as it is.

Being a runner, the first thing that came in mind and could potential refrain you to go for it is the possibility that the procedure fails and/or that you cannot continue to live as you did before. For sure, the probability of an issue is very unlikely, but you can’t help to think about it. After a few days and calls with the doctor, I made my mind and decided to go for it.

Details about the procedure can be found online but if you are planning to do it, plan to take a full day off. You have to be prepared (no food 12 hours before the procedure, only limited water, somebody has to drive you, etc.) and the preliminary operations take a lot of time as well. Once this is done, you cannot walk after the procedure, so, you need somebody to take you home and help you. So, again, if you go for it, plan ahead.

After the procedure, you need to recover. Not only because the heart needs to heal after the ablation but because the area where the catheters were introduced can start to bleed again. So, you have to reduce activity and movement for a couple of hours to avoid potential bleeding. Be prepared to lay down for a while, which means no running for three days and even no walking for 24 hours. For sure, you will be mainly concerned about the recovery and wanted to go out and at least walk to take some fresh air. On my side, I waited a day before starting walking to see if having a light activity will not hurt or stress the veins where the catheters were inserted and not trigger any big issue. On the third day, I did a short run and resume my training on the fifth day.

If you go for such a procedure, you will probably experience some discomfort a few days after the procedure within your heart (although not as intense as what you was used to). The doctor and his staff reported it as normal and would disappear after a few days. This is exactly what happened and eventually, after a few days (probably 10), past issues will belong to the past.

If you are an active person that experience abnormal heart activity (palpitations, unusual heart rate, …), your doctor might recommend such a procedure. If you are wondering if this is worth it and are worried about the potential success, I would recommend it, especially because the failure rate is very unlikely that if successful, it avoids many painful episodes. But keep in mind that such a decision has to be assessed and evaluated with your background and your objectives.

Note: I would like to thank Robert, a fellow friend runner, that helps me through the process and recommend me to the doctor that treated me. It would not have been the same with his help and support.

Pedal Pittsburgh 2014 – ride report

On Sunday, August 24, I participated to Pedal Pittsburgh (a.k.a. PedalPGH) with my usual partner in crime. This is not a race but rather an invitation to join a happy crew of bikers and discover many areas of Pittsburgh! The guidelines are simple: you start whenever you want (but it is recommended to start early) and try to finish before the end of the party (around 3pm). Three distances were proposed: 7 miles (family friendly), 25 miles (go to around the city) or 62 miles (with a lot of hills). Another distance (45 miles) was proposed later and I ended up by doing this one. Nice way to do something else than running and explore the city on a wonderful Sunday morning.

On the way to Troy Hill

On the way to Troy Hill

 

The start is in the South Side, under the Birmingham Bridge. You can get technical support at the starting line to check your bike, chain, tire, etc. If you did not have enough time to get your breakfast, water and fruits are available. The ride go towards the North Side and explore Troy Hill and the Riverview Park. If you are looking for a good workout, this part of the ride is definitively a good one: lots of up and downhills, pretty challenging! While biking, we found an unofficial stops organized by happy bike-enthusiast packed with water, cookies, happiness and big smiles. Enough energy to help you keep going, especially because after a few miles, an official stop as provides technical support (small repairs and adjustments) and more food. The route continues towards Bloomfield (where you cross the Little Italy Days and see people getting ready for the festival), and go up the hills of Highland Park where another stop welcomes you. The ride finishes with a nice trip through Oakland (that goes along Circuit Rd – the one used by the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix) and finally the South Side. Once you finish the ride, you got a tee-shirt and are invited to visit the party at the finish line packed with food trucks and other vendors.

 

Birmingham Bridge, almost to the finish line!

Birmingham Bridge, almost to the finish line!

 

This non-competitive event makes a wonderful Sunday ride with more than 45 miles and 2700 feet of elevation. You can turn it into a friendly/family event and do a distance that fits your needs. In other words, it can replace your usual morning run in the week end while you discover parts of the city you are not use to see (this exploration convinced me to explore the North Side and more specifically the Riverview Park and its trails)! The support is really great: there are regular water-stops, well packed with appropriate food so that you do not have to carry too much stuff in your bagpack. The support is very appreciated: in case your bike has a defect, you can easily have an advice from an expert.

Obviously, for $25 (price to sign up), considering the support you get, this is definitively something to add on your to-do list. On top of that, by participating to the ride, you support the local and bike-friendly association. No reason for not signing up next year!

 

Useful Informations

Run Around the Square 2014 – race report

Steel City Road Runners Invasion at Run Around the Square

Steel City Road Runners Invasion at Run Around the Square

Run Around The Square (or RATS) is a 5K run that goes around Regent Square in Pittsburgh, PA. This race takes place in August and is a neighborhood, friendly event. The race starts in Regent Square, go through some streets in Swissvale, PA and finishes in Frick Park. This is only 5K (or 3.1 miles if you prefer).I did not want to sign up for this event, I consider that paying for something I can do every day without support is useless. Do not misunderstand me, I totally understand that many people are excited about these races and I will encourage – and cheer – anybody to sign up. But as I run more than 10 miles per day, this is something I used to so I do not really need a special event to do it. However, my partner in crime convince me, arguing that it was a friendly event, a good reason to hang out with friends in the area rather than a competitive race. In order to demonstrate it, she signed me up. I cannot refused.

 

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The start is at 9:00. In order to keep my sanity, I did 5 miles before in Frick Park and join the starting line. First of all, I was amazed by the number of runners around (the square). The event is very popular and for good reasons (see later). During the race, you pass several groups that play music, which is very cool, especially for such a short distance. Once you get into the Park, there is a champagne and beer stop sponsored by Dunnings! There are also two additional water stops along the course.

The finish is in Frick park where you can hang out with friends. The place is very nice and you can cheer people that completed the race and have hot dogs and beers provided by D’s. Other sponsors provide interesting perks (Park Pizza and Cream for a slice of pizza, the east-end food co-op for bananas, True Runner that promoted the Hoka Clifton).

Want a banana?

Want a banana?

 

So, is it worth it? Definitively. I am clearly not a short distance guy, averaging 10 miles a day. This is not a race but a reason to meet friends and have some time to have beers and hot dogs in the morning. It engages people that are not used to run to participate in an event that might help them to start (my former roommate that hates running completed it and seems to like it!) and can connect non-runners with more trained people.

The take away? Sometime, you just have to listen to the others, have some fun and forget your daily mileage and take the opportunity to have some good time. And this can also be an opportunity to have a personal record: this year, three fellows Steel City Road Runners placed in their age group! Congratulations to them, my own Personal Record (PR) at this rate has more to do with the max numbers of beers I was able to get before 10am. Way to go!

Pacing adventures @ Eastern States

Volunteers Excited at the start

Volunteers Excited at the start

Thanks to all my Steel City Road Runners for this fantastic week-end in Waterville, PA. Having the honor and the opportunity to pace for a couple of miles in the dark was a unique experience. This reminded me going up and down the 37000 feet of ascent/descent in Corsica while discovering the nature along the GR20. Congratulations to all the participants, this is a though and technical course with narrow and rocky trails. Definitively not designed for all runners.

Pacer up and Ready!

Pacer up and Ready!

Thanks to all for this experience: runners, crew, non-runners, volunteers: this has been a great experience!

Pacing @ Eastern States 100

This week-end, I am heading to Waterville, PA in order to participate with some friends in the inaugural year of the Eastern States 100. This is an ultra-marathon, a 100 miles race that goes along the trails around Grand Canyon, PA (and many others cities in the area). I am planning to rest during this week-end and have a nice jog/hike/run with a fellow Steel City Road Runner that will attempt to finish it. Assuming he survives to the first 60 miles, I will have the pleasure to pace him, meaning that I will do my best to keep him awake, make sure he stays on his feet, eats his veggies peanut-butter sandwiches and is on time to arrive before the end of the race. Any trick is accepted except to carry him to the finish line.

 

Around mile 80 of the race, when I will stop my pacing duties

Around mile 80 of the race, when I will stop my pacing duties

 

This is a big deal, especially considering the elevation profile (see below). The big up/down hills are similar to the 8 first miles of the Laurel Highlands Ultra. I am planning to pace for 18 miles, from mile 60 (around 1200am – midnight) to miles 78 (probably around 0600am). This means staying 6 hours on my feet going mostly up and downhills. Sounds easy; you just have to keep a pace of 20 min per mile. But running the same elevation once some weeks ago pushed me out of my comfort zone and it asked more than two weeks to fully recover.

Elevation Profile for the Eastern 100

Elevation Profile for the Eastern 100

But this run will be a come back to the roots, the trails, the adventure in Corsica on the GR20 I completed some years ago. Exploring the nature during the day or at night. Listening to the nature, seeing things that became unusual in our so-well organized daily life in the city. Pushing your limits, being out of your comfort zone, rediscover yourself and at the finish, sharing our experience and enjoy the company of existing or new friends. Just rediscover simple things, things we are not no longer used to.

It is going to be a fantastic experience.

Run for Gold 2014 (race report)

Every race comes a story, an experience, an adventure. My experience for run for gold is very personal and, after a first good experience overall, brought me to sign up again this year. This is a metric marathon, 16.28 miles on the Great Allegheny Passage, from Meyersdale in Pennsylvania to Frostburg in Maryland. Yup, you get the chance to cross two different states on your feet within 2 hours!

This is a very cheap race: $16 per person. For this price, no bag filled with goodies but a water stop at mid-way with pretzel, water, a bus trip from the finish to the start and a finisher medal. Obviously, it is difficult to beat such a good deal. Being in August, this is a great time to discover this part of the trail at a very reasonable price!

 

What you see in the last hill - if you see that after 16 miles, you are on the right way!

What you see in the last hill – if you see that after 16 miles, you are on the right way!

 

Where to stay

I stayed at the Trail Inn in Frostburg. Very convenient, this is located next to the finish line and where the bus pick you in the morning. The Inn has a lot of bedrooms for different budgets: shared beds (for about $35) , private rooms (about $100) or bunk beds (about $120 for a room with 4 bunk beds). It includes breakfast as well. While I had a good experience from the previous year, I have mixed feelings on this one. The Inn is pretty good and the owner very accommodating. On the other hand, the staff from the Cafe (Olive Cafe) is terrible. But it turns out that the cafe is operated by a different company than the Inn. In fact, we asked before coming if having breakfast was possible in the morning and we had confirmation that is was totally possible. In addition, the documents from the Inn states that you can request to have a breakfast basket if you are planning to have your breakfast outside the regular hours. However, the Cafe staff complained about us for asking too much and, the morning of the race, complained that we were too demanding (reason invoked: “This was too early”). That sounded just inappropriate and rude considering that the request that (1) made weeks ago before coming and (2) the Inn documentation insisted that having early breakfast was feasible on request.

Another people reported that the Cafe staff complained when the train came at 8pm the night before and discussed about closing their space. In fact, this place is close to an old train station, so, old trains sometimes show up (and bring people and potential business). Very confusing to see business owners complaining for having potential customers. It sounds like this place is not very friendly and does not welcome new business. You would probably better walk away and go somewhere else.

The takeaway: go to the hotel but do not give your business to the Cafe! The owners of the Inn are definitively nice persons and accommodating (thanks for the late checkout!) but the Cafe staff is just not worth it!

The race

The race itself starts around 0730am but you have to take a bus to go to the starting line. The bus leaves at 0640am in the morning from Frostburg to go to the start at Meyersdale. The commute takes about 40 minutes and the race starts right after the bus drops everybody. We started the race at 0740am. Then, you go along the Great Allegheny Passage, part of the trail that goes from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. For information, there is some bathrooms at the start if you need. There are some also along the course but I do not remember how many.

As last year, the race is wonderful. If the weather is collaborative, it is a great experience to run through the bridges and the trails in the morning, see the sun shining and continue your journey to the finish.

At mile 8 (half way), there is a water stop where you will find water, snacks (pretzels) and the usual stuff you can expect at a aid-station. Pretty simple but efficient. When stopping, I was chocked to see the Race Director. As there were no volunteer, the guy did the water stop himself.

Then, you continue and go through several tunnels. One does not have any light which can be confusing after a couple of miles. But nothing really important.

 

The race map (yes, this is a point to point)

The race map (yes, this is a point to point)

 

The elevation profile is not terrible. In fact, you have to be prepared to go mostly uphills for the first eight miles and have a more easy race for the second part. So, you have to push a little bit more in the first part of the race and finally keep the same pace on the downhill (which is more easy for most people).

Something that might help: the aid station/water stop is just at the end of the up-hill section. So, you can push, rest for a sec and head to the finish without any stress and/or need for food!

 

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

 

To go to the finish line, you have to make a turn and go uphill. There as a big discussion last year because there was no sign to turn. In fact, it turned out that I missed the turn last year, which was unfortunate because it cost me a place in the results (bummer!). Hopefully, the race director, Kevin, took into consideration our proposition to put a sign to alert runners to turn and there was a simple sign so that nobody can get lost.

When you finish, you have a nice wood medal. That was requested by other runners last year and the race director followed the runners recommendation! Last year, there was only awards for people that placed in their age group, which can be frustrated for slower runners, especially for a race like this where the emphasis is more on the training. This year, no matter your pace, you got a medal, no matter how you did.

Also, at the finish line, there is food (pretzel, bananas, apple) and beverages (water and Gatorade). Definitively enough to refuel and come back home happy with a nice training in your running log!

 

Hi buddy, I am almost there!

Hi buddy, I am almost there!

 

Pictures

Several volunteers took pictures over the course. Some before the long tunnel, other (like the Race Director) at the finish. The pictures are posted for free on the race website. So, even with such a cheap event, you do not have to purchase expensive pictures! You can for sure purchase the high definition of the pictures but the Potomac Highlands Distance Club lets you use the low-def at no price. And they do not add any copyright or noise on the preview so that you can use them. This sounds very fair: you can get a picture of you to post on social media or your website and, in case you really want to make a poster or a print version, you can still pay a reasonable price. If other races could do the same, it would be really appreciated …

If you are looking for the links for the pictures, you can access them here:

 

Special Thanks

To my Steel City Road Runners for being part of this journey. Also, special thanks to the race director, Kevin. The guy took into consideration all the concerns expressed by the participants of last year. He made everything possible to make a good race at a very affordable price. He improved the race, without him, this race would not have been the same.

 

Run for Gold 2015?

It seems that the Race Director will not continue this race but some folks are planning to continue it. So, if you want to run this race, I recommend it. For less than $20, having a timed course over the Great Allegheny Passage with a finished medal: you cannot beat that.

 

Misc

Fundraising update – August 2014

I recently joined a bike ride that will happen on October, 12 and which goal is to raise money for research on melanoma and pancreatic cancer. The event request that you raise at least $50 and I tried to raise a little bit more, $500. Well, after a couple of weeks, I am happy to see that the initial goal is already met. I am very thankful to my friends and family that helped me to reach my goal. That means a lot to me and this is definitively a wonderful gift, probably one of the best I got since the last couple of months.

 

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But we can also do better and raise more. So, if you are interested to support me in that effort and help research against melanoma and pancreatic cancer, you can still donate! Please follow the link below and just donate whatever you want. Also, if you prefer to ride with us, please contact me so that you can join our team “In Memory of Beth. Finally, for each person that gives more than $20, I will offer a beer when we have the opportunity to hang out! Hope that, we can share the willingness to fight cancer but also good moments around a beer!

Also, if you donate, please put your name or a nickname so that I can know who donated. The donation system does not send any notification and does not indicate the identity of the donator if they do not put a name of the donation page. As for now, there are two anonymous donations and, even if I cannot put a name on them, I want to let them know that I am very grateful for their support.

 

Cheers!

 

Access to the donation page

How to sh*t your pants during a race: Grand Canyon PA Half-Marathon and Marathon – race report

The beginning

The Grand Canyon, PA half-marathon and marathon races were held on July, 26 and July, 27. You can do the half, the full or decided to “rock the canyon” which basically means you are doing both races. I decided to “rock the canyon” and signed up for both! The races are not very expensive considering what you get: about $80 for the full, $45 for the half and $110 for both. Considering the price of some events, this is definitively worth it: you can enjoy the fresh air of the mountain and have some space to run. Nothing to compare with events like Disney which charges you more than anybody else to run on roads open to traffic packed with people stopping every two steps without going on the right side of the road!

My partner in crime and I drove to Wellsboro, PA on Friday, the day before the race. As we wanted to support the event sponsors, we stayed to the hotel that sponsored the race, the Penn Wells Lodge (which was a huge mistake, more on that later). The drive was 4 hours from Pittsburgh, not too bad at all. The  hotel has a swimming pool, a hot tube and other facilities you will enjoy. But, as the Walt Disney Marathon, this hotel was a mess, but I will discuss that later. After getting there lately, we decided to go for dinner early. Most of the places were closed and we ended up in a Steakhouse in Main Street. Our experience was almost as good as the one with the hotel: I would get better service and food at McDonalds. If you are looking for a good place, I would rather recommend the Wellsboro House, not too far from the hotel (if you are willing to book in that place …). They have a great service, are accommodating with special diets and very friendly!

Heading back to the hotel, I asked if this was possible to get a late breakfast on Saturday. The race started at 07am and after completing, we had to come back with a shuttle, which might take about one hour total. After all, if they are the official hotel for the event, they should be “runner compliant” and accommodating? However, the staff reported they had no intention for doing such a favor and the service will end at 10am no matter what. I asked also if it was possible to extend the hours a little bit and explained why (the half marathon started at 7am but you need to take a bus to go to the starting line and come back) but again, they were not willing to do so. Apparently, “customer service” is not something well known in that place. About the hotel itself and the rooms: the walls are so thin that you hear your neighbor pretty well and surprise, the bathroom have mold! Not the best place to stay.

Packet Pick up

Packet pick up was held on a School, where the shuttle to the race started. It was well organized with a swag that contains all the necessary information to go to the starting line and visit the area. There was not so many vendors but anyway, do you really shop a lot during race expos? On the other hand, there was a nice local chocolate/candy vendor. I was not able to refrain myself from buying some of them, pretending I cannot go there without trying the local specialties.

 

The book that should be provided in the goodie bag

The book that should be provided in the goodie bag

 

The Half-Marathon

The race started at 07am but you have to take a shuttle to get there. The last shuttle leaves at 0545am and it is really better to be there before to avoid congestion. By taking this last one, you are on the course at the latest by 0630am. There is a lot of port-o-potty when you exit the buses but … none next to the starting line. Which is a big issue because people had to go back and forth between the pick up location and the starting line.

The race started on time with a friendly weather. Part of it is on the road but most on dirty road. Elevation is not too steep, but, having trained in Pittsburgh, this might not be the best reference. The course go through the Grand Canyon and you have one or two great views (see below).

Type of view you can expect

Type of view you can expect during the race

 

There are water stops every 2 miles or so, so, you will not be dehydrated as long as you keep taking a sip at every stop. There was no “real food” at the water stops, only gels but nothing else. On the other hand, this is not a big issue on a half-marathon, as such a distance can be completed without food. On the other hand, this might be an issue for the marathon (more on that later).

The big issue was the port-o-potty: there was almost none on the course. While I do not really care because my GI system is made of titanium, this can be a big issue for other runners who are more sensible. I have seen only one port-o-potty on the half-marathon course while there was 10+ of them at the starting line. This is a real downside for the half. Some might argue that you can go in the nature but this is clearly not an option for others. The elevation profile is not too difficult. There is no steep hill but no “flat part” at all. So, you just alternate up and down hills. Just have to be used to this type of course, which is not an issue when you come from Pittsburgh.

Elevation profile of the half marathon

Elevation profile of the half marathon

 

Once you finished, you received a medal. The results are updated regularly during the party on a board. You get a nice box for food, extra fruits (apple, banana) and pretzels are also available. But not having a port-o-potty at the finish (they are at 0.5 mile so you need to walk) is really inconvenient. This is very unfortunate because all the rest (transportation, course, schedule, results) is well executed and makes this event a great one!

Once you are done and if you did not shit your pant, a bus service takes you from the race to the parking lot so that you can bring your car. It takes about 30 minutes to come back.

In between

We came back to the hotel at 10:02. Fortunately, the hotel staff was wrapping up the breakfast area. Just on time to try to grab some stuff to take as a post-race refuel. At that time, I had no t-shirt, I took it off after the race because if the heat and having blood on my chest (you know, this runner issue …). While I thanked the staff for letting the breakfast a little bit lately, I got the following friendly reply: “put a shirt: no shirt, no service, this is the law”. I was just amazed how unfriendly with their customers.

Conquer the Canyon!

Conquer the Canyon!

The afternoon was the opportunity to visit the area around Wellsboro, rest and prepare for the Marathon the next day. The bib, t-shirt and other stuff were included in the packet I took on Friday, so, no need to come back to the expo. To sum up, the area is great and this is definitively worth to drive around and look at great lookouts. If you planned to go there, consider to take a GPS or a map: you have no cell service at all the the directions are not clearly mentioned. So, this is easy to get lost quickly.

On race day, after waking up at 0430, I saw the hotel staff preparing the breakfast area and asked if I can get a bagel as I was preparing for the day (coffee, breakfast, etc.). The staff told me that: “breakfast will be served in 20 minutes” (in other words, when the shuttle was leaving … so convenient when racing!) and that it is not the rule to serve breakfast before the time. The staff also mentioned that if they give me something, they have to give to all hotel customers. Surprisingly, this does not seem obvious for the hotel to give to their customers what they paid for. I can understand such a service from a normal hotel that is not prepared to accommodate needs for customers with special constraints. But considering they sponsored the event and claimed they were runner friendly, I do not know why they were not more accommodating. The manager might be french or just rude and unfriendly.

The Marathon

As for the half, the marathon starts at 0700am. You have to get a shuttle as well to go to the starting line. As being said before, the main issue is the port-o-potty that are not next to the starting line. There are 10 next to the buses but this is 0.5 mile from the starting line to that, if you want to make a break, you have to come back and forth. Definitively not convenient.

The marathon route go through the same area as the half. Basically, the first part covers the half marathon (except the road part) and go further. There are some hills, while they are not too steep: the biggest elevation is 200 feet, which is not to difficult. What might turn you down is that there is almost no flat area. So, you will constantly go either up or down. Just have to deal with it.

The course is an out and back, so, one you get to the 13-ish miles point, you just turn and hope that your pants are still clean. For an obvious reason: there are no more port-o-potty than for the half! On the marathon, there is only 2 places you can get some rest! So, if you ate the fettuccine alfredo the night before, pray for the best. Otherwise, pack some toilet paper and prepare yourself for a great experience with mother nature.

Elevation Profile, not so hilly!

Elevation Profile, not so hilly!

 

There are water stops every two miles as well, so, the race is doable without an hydration pack. On the other hand, the food available at the water stop is really limited (same as the half): gels at miles 4-ish, gels + banana at mile 14-ish. I am glad that I packed energy bars and asked my partner in crime to bring some extra! This is also definitively a big downside and could be easily fixed (get a costco card and buy some packs of candy or pretzels would be more than enough!). If having limited food for a half is not a big issue, this can be inconvenient for a full.

Once you finish, you receive the medal and, if you completed the half the day before, get an extra-medal for completing both races. On my side, I received an additional reward for having finished 3rd in my age group in the marathon. As for the half, you get a box with food when you arrived and the selection is actually very good as well.

The Medals

The Medals

As for the half, a shuttle gives you a ride back to the parking lot (it takes 30 minutes). But be quick: the hotel that sponsored the race allowed a late checkout at 1pm instead of originally … 12pm! In other words, if you completed your marathon in 4:30 or 5:00 (which is common for many runners), this is almost impossible to check out on time! And do not even think about taking a shower!

Many runners asked before to get a late checkout 2/3pm and the hotel previously acknowledged. But upon arrival, they distribute a paper indicating they changed their mind and asked for a checkout at 1pm. This issues with the hotel also impacts the overall week-end experience. Considering that you pay almost $130/night for a room with mold, no breakfast and rude and unfriendly staff, you just feel that these folks just make fun of you.

 

The Takeaway

Highlights

  • Course well organized: timing was available, results posted quickly
  • Schedule on time: at the latest during the afternoon
  • Bus shuttle from the start to the parking lot: lots of shuttle, pretty quick to get there
  • Packet pick up and expo was simple with just what we need!
  • No car, scenic and offer the opportunity to discover a scenic area: this is a unique opportunity to race in this region.
Next Sponsor for the PA Grand Canyon

Next Sponsor for the PA Grand Canyon

Suggestions for Improvements

  • Put several port-o-potty at least every 5 miles: Having limited space for them is understandable. On the other hand, having only 2 for 26.2 miles is definitively not sufficient. Having at least 3 every 5 miles would be more than appreciated.
  • Sponsor the course by Scott: is the organizers cannot put more port-o-potty, I suggest we replace an existing shitty sponsor (Penn Wells Hotel) by an appropriate one.
  • Have a real runner-friendly hotel: the Penn Wells Lodge was everything but friendly and accommodating for runners.
  • Having a Rock the Canyon results: for those who completed the rock the canyon, having some specific rankings would be useful. Making the half or the full is though but completing both is another story and knowing there you placed among the participants could be useful.
  • More food option on the road: the food at the finish is more than enough (the package is great!). But having more options on the road (especially for people who do not like gels) will be greatly appreciated. This might be easily fixed by making a trip to costco and buy candies, pretzels and other high-carb food for runners.
  • Provide a copy of the well-known book How to shit in the Woods(great reference by the way)

 

Summary

This race is definitively a great one. Not having portable toilets might be an issue for some but most of runners would not have any issue at all. I would just recommend to be prepared (wither not to eat anything heavy and/or take baby wipes with you). But this is a minor issue considering the race, the nice lookout and the unique opportunity to run in these mountains with adequate support. If you like the nature and are looking for a great race, I definitively recommend it. Just do not stay at the Penn Wells, there are better and cheaper places in the area!