The marathon was small, with about 500 runners and 100 three-person relay teams.. The weather was cool (40F), dry with little wind. As this was a January race in Northern California at an elevation of 1000 feet, I was happy there wasn't snow on the ground.
We got up at 5:30am and took the 7am bus from the finish to the start. The driver didn't get lost and we arrived with plenty of time. The starting line was the top of the Shasta Dam, which turns out to the second largest dam in the United States. They opened the Visitors Center where everyone hung out until race time, which was nice as it was warm! With five minutes to go, they asked us all to head to starting line.
The race began on time and was well-organized. The first 1.5 miles of the course went directly across the top of Shasta Dam and then headed steeply downhill to the river's edge (outflow of the dam) for another mile. Once we got to the level of the river, we ran along a "Rails to Trails" route that followed the river for approximately 23 miles. The views were incredibly beautful and the numbers of marathoners was small enough that it felt more like a nice long run than a race.
We ran through the old train tunnel at Mile 4 (stopping for photos of course) and continued on to the first set of hills at Mile 12. Along the way we were on the lookout for ice on the course - parts of the trail were in the shade and were slippery for the first few hours of the run. Miles 12 - 14 had some hard hills; we also passed the first hand-off for the relay so there were lots of kills (me) after that.
After another mile long hill from 15 to 16, we did an out and back then headed across the Ribbon Bridge at Mile 22.
The last four miles followed along the Sacramento River through downtown Redding and we finished by crossing the Sundial Bridge.
Overall, here's how the run rates in my book:
Organization – Well organized, marked course. Grade: A
Course - Beautiful, remote course. Big hills at Miles12-14. Grade: A-
Aid-stations - Fewer stations than a large marathon, but spaced apart approximately every 2 or 2.5 miles. Well stocked, super friendly volunteers. Water that wasn't from a hose and Gatorade (the Smurf one) that wasn't too strong. Grade: B+
Swag – Great medal, nice dri-fit long sleeve shirt. Grade: B+