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Jane Rosales

St. Jude's Children's Hospital 15k   (2014)

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SPOILER ALERT: I didn't actually run a 15k

I signed up for the St. Jude's Children Hospital 15K in Ridgewood, NJ a few weeks ago. Oddly enough I've been to Ridgewood a few times so this seemed like a good suburban road trip from NYC (50 minute drive or so from Brooklyn).

We got there around 8am (the race started at 8:30am). I picked up my bib with my shirt and bag of goodies (free reusable icepack!). There was plenty of parking.

I haven't run a race that has been this low-key. I blame NYC and my love of big races. However it felt like there was only 50 people there (results state 100 finishers or so). I began to freak out when there was a strong chance I'd finish last (I didn't!). We started promptly at 8:30am and off we went.

The Course
No miles were listed at all. I really should have turned on MapMyRun on my iPhone. It felt like the longest race ever. Luckily, the course was covered by very tall trees so there was plenty of shade. The course was primarily a concrete bike path so there were plenty of bikes and people to watch out for. However it wasn't really an issue.

The course was primarily an out and back course. Within the 1st 20-25 minutes I was turning around then 25 minutes later, I turned around again. So in a way, it was a big weird loop of sorts. There were 3 water stations on the course, 2 of which I passed twice (that whole out and back thing). I had enough water and since there was shade, it didn't feel like it was a sunny 80 degrees. Also, there were plenty of little creeks and streams, so it made for a nice scenic run.

When I approached the finish line, the time said 1:30 exactly. I was soooo excited, what an awesome pace! I was so happy. Quickly ate up some bananas and a granola bar, (plenty of bananas, granola bars and bottled water) took some pics then off to brunch to celebrate.

I couldn't find race results on my own when I got home so I commented on Facebook on their page. They quickly responded with the website link to results but it wasn't up as of Sunday evening. I checked back Monday morning and it was up..

I was pretty disappointed that the course was actually cut down to 8.27 miles, making my pace a whole minute slower than I originally thought. I emailed them to ask why it was cut down, they responded and said there was "confusion with the map of the course." All the promotional materials stated it was USATF certified. Although, it was the first time they've held the race ever soooo you can't expect it to be perfect, right? Either way it was a good race for a great cause and, it was nice getting out of the city for suburban Sunday.

Tom Leddy

Rock N Roll Chicago Half Marathon   (2014)

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Thumb rnrchi medals

2014 was my third year in a row doing the Rock n Roll Chicago Half Marathon.... which made this the first time I've done the same race more than twice. And to be honest, during the last few weeks leading up to the race, I found myself wondering why I even signed up for it in the first place. I'm always up for a race, but what I really like to do is travel and go running in places that I've never been to before.... and not only that, but the first two times I did this race were miserable experiences:

2012 was my own fault - The Chicago Blackhawks Convention is the same weekend as the race every year and that particular year, I decided to do both since the convention is held at the Hilton on Michigan Avenue, which is walking distance from the start and finish lines, and since hockey is my second sports passion after running... This would have been perfect except for the fact that I spent the entire day before the race walking around the Hilton checking out hockey memorabilia and hydrating myself with copious amounts of beer, so I was really in no shape to run a half marathon the next day.... the extreme heat and humidity didn't help, but in the end I knew that I really didn't have anyone to blame for my horrible finishing time but myself so I decided to give the race another shot the next year.

In 2013, I was a lot more prepared for the race, but it was so hot and humid outside on race day that I don't think anyone who ran it had a particularly enjoyable experience. The middle of July in Chicago is usually brutally hot and humid and the race starts at 6:30am so that most of the runners can finish before the temperatures get too high... This particular year, the early start time wasn't much of a help since it was already 78 degrees outside when the race started and quickly warmed up to the mid 90's without a single cloud to be seen anywhere. By the time I got to mile 8, I was sweating so much that the sweat had run down my legs and soaked through my shoes and socks to the point where my feet would make a squish noise whenever they hit the ground. When I finally hobbled across the finish line an hour or so later, I was completely worn out and dehydrated, probably with a touch of heat stroke from the sun beating down on me, and I told myself that I would never do this race again....

I really, genuinely planned on not signing up for it this year too - a couple friends signed up and asked me if I was doing it..... I said "nope".... a couple more friends signed up and asked if I was doing it..... I was starting to get a little more interested by this point but I still said "nope".... and I kept ignoring all of the email reminders to sign up and the ads that I saw in running magazines, etc.... until I got the email that contained a picture of the finisher's medal. I took one look and decided that this was easily one of the top 5 coolest looking race medals I had ever seen and knew right then and there that I had to have one.... so forget the heat, the humidity, the harsh sun, the squishy shoes.... nothing was going to stop me from getting a medal in this race....

A few weeks before the race I got another email that said that Competitor Group had added another 5K to the schedule for the weekend. They already have one on Sunday at the same time as the half marathon but now there was one on Saturday and you could get an extra medal if you did both. So I figured that if I was going to do a race in Chicago in the middle of July, I might as well go all out and I signed up for the 5K too....

The 5K on Saturday turned out to be a lot of fun - it wasn't too crowded and it started in Monroe Harbor and went up along the lakefront path, then headed west at the museum campus and did a little loop through the south side of Grant Park before heading back North up the lakefront path and finishing back at Monroe Harbor. The only downside to this course is that the race organizers aren't allowed to block off the lakefront path to the public during the race, so there are other runners, walkers, bikers, etc. on the trail at the same time and people doing the race have to work their way around them. This isn't specific to this particular race though - I've done other 5Ks on the lakefront path that are the same way and really, I can see the city's point of view on this - the path is supposed to be for everyone, and if race organizers were allowed to close it down, then it wouldn't take long before there would be some kind of race or other event shutting down the trail every weekend and nobody else would ever get to use it. I heard a few runners complaining about this but it really didn't bother me much and the views made it totally worth it anyway. The Mackinac Island Boat race is the same weekend, so not only were the views of Lake Michigan absolutely beautiful, but there were even more sailboats out on the water than usual.

I also got to take a picture with Shalane Flanagan before the race... and there was even a post race party in Grant Park that was a little smaller than the one after the half marathon the next day but still bigger than the party at any other 5K I've ever done, which made the whole experience nothing short of excellent.

I was fully expecting to have to endure brutally hot temperatures and air so thick that it felt like I was running through a bowl of soup during the half marathon..... but amazingly, it wasn't that bad at all.... The weather on race weekend was extremely mild for the middle of July. It was still humid, but the temperatures were easily 20 degrees cooler than they had been during the two previous years and there was a ton of cloud cover for almost the entire race. Both races were the most pleasant running experiences I've had at that time of year in Chicago in almost as long as I remember.

The course itself was a little bit different from previous years - I think they had to change it because of some construction that's being done on the Van Buren Street Bridge this year, but to be honest, I wouldn't mind if they left it that way for future races. Instead of circling around the edges of the loop like it did in the past (and like a lot of other races in downtown Chicago do), it kinda zig-zagged up and down some of the streets within the city. It was a nice change of scenery. There was some pretty good crowd support in the usual places, especially right after mile 6 when the course turns onto Michigan Avenue.

Even in the past years when the heat was bad, I've still always enjoyed this course. Besides running through downtown Chicago for the first 6 miles, the last three miles head north alongside Lake Michigan where there are beautiful views of the skyline (not to mention that the cool breeze coming off of the lake tends to help with the heat) and then through McCormick Place and finally underneath Lake Shore Drive and up Columbus towards the finish line which is right next to Grant Park.... and right after Roosevelt Road, the crowds on either side of Columbus are nice and thick and all the cheering helps to give the runners a nice little boost for the last quarter mile or so....

There's only one thing I would change about the course, which is miles 7 and 8 - runners head south on Michigan Avenue away from downtown.... and there's a fairly long stretch where there aren't any crowds and there really isn't anything interesting to look at besides some beat up old buildings.... The drummers on the bridge right before the mile 8 marker are pretty cool but other than that, this two mile stretch is pretty challenging. That being said though, I don't want it to sound like I'm complaining too much because I really don't have any ideas for how to make it any better - besides a couple small hills here and there, the course is nice and flat and it offers runners an opportunity to run both through downtown Chicago and up along Lake Michigan.... and since you have a way to get everyone from one of those places to the other, there's bound to be a mile or two here and there that just aren't as exciting as the rest - every race has them.

Everything else about the race was great - there was plenty of water and Gatorade at all the water tables along the course, there was a table at mile 11 where people were handing out wet sponges, which always feel amazing by that point, and they even made an improvement over last year in the big tunnel near McCormick place by adding some neon lights. The post race concert festivities were good too - I got to meet up with some friends and listen to some good music.... and I also got an extra medal for doing both the 5K and the Half Marathon.... and did I mention how much I like the half marathon finisher's medal?

So in the end.... for a race that I had spent months swearing that I would never sign up for again, this actually turned out to be a great experience.... and I've already added it to my list of races that I want to do again next year....

Kim Maves

Rock N Roll Chicago Half Marathon   (2014)

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I only ran this race because it fell on my birthday and I really wanted race swag with my birthdate on it.
The organization of the race and expo is fantastic! I wish however there were people monitoring the corrals. I LOVED the sponges and the misting station. The post race food was probably the best I've had. Overall I did have fun, no PR but I cannot complain about my time.

Unfortunately, I think I have more negatives.
I was bummed that there weren't bands on the course. Even though I don't run with music, it would have been a nice motivation when my hips were burning. Also, having the 5k start at the same time is kind of annoying. Course was decent, lots of turns and a few hills. I wish the bridge would have been covered, running over the gates make me nervous. Also, running through McCormick place really made me nauseous. The last three miles on the lakefront path were congested, but it was a straight shot and it made it a little easier when I was in pain. Aid stations were just okay. Some of them were totally understaffed and one had children passing out water, cute, but they were not tall enough to give it to me.

I am a bit critical, but it was fun. I don't think that I will run it again however. I loved seeing the Road Scholars run and finish. That is my marathon charity team.

Cass Gunderson

Rock N Roll Chicago Half Marathon   (2014)

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Thumb rnr

For a half marathon in Chicago during late July, we lucked out on weather this year. Overall, I enjoyed the race and would recommend it.

What I liked:
+ The first 6 miles have great scenery through downtown Chicago and are very fast and flat
+ Fun theme & nice shirt and medal
+ Plenty of aid stations and relatively well managed race (with the exception of the last or second to last aid station that was ran by really young kids(?) - someone else mentioned this as well. They were cute, just didn't really know what to do!)
+ Great post-race party with very well-organized vendors.
+ Easy gear check
+ Well-organized and extensive expo (though I have some gripes... that will be mentioned later). I also appreciated that they don't give you a lot of extras that you don't want or need - they keep it simple: get your bib, bag, shirt, pins & information.

Things that could improve:
- I REALLY hate that people can't pick up each other's bibs - you HAVE to be there and show your ID to receive your bib - no exceptions. It was a hassle for me and I am from Chicago so I can't imagine how other people from out of town felt. As they make this a necessity, it would be helpful if they had more extensive hours for bib pick up. It would have been SO much easier for me if my friends could have gotten mine for me. I also am a little upset that they don't have some kind of subsidized parking for the expo. I took a bus this year, but when I ran this two years ago I drove in and it was ~$25 to park for the 30-45 minutes we were there. That's a pretty steep rate. Every other race that I have been to with an expo at McCormick place gives a discounted rate for parking. Not sure why Rock and Roll doesn't negotiate this but I think it's really annoying.
- Lots of turns in the first 6 miles.
- Once you head south out of the loop (mile 7 or so?) there really is no scenery; I find the route to be pretty boring. When you head back up north, the route takes the lakeshore path for the last 3 miles - which is a really confined space for how large this race is. I'm guessing this saves a signficant amount of money to not have to close down another street for a 3 mile stretch but the extra width would be very helpful with spacing.
- Others addressed this, but quite a lack of bands along the route. Apparently this was not the fault of RNR but due to city regulations.
- I didn't really see anyone checking to make sure people were starting in their assigned corrals.

It's a big race with a fun theme in a great city. Though it's not my favorite race in Chicago, it's fairly well managed and has some good things going for it.

Cass Gunderson

Mudathlon   (2014)

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Thumb 137

As far as I can tell, there are two types of people in this world: people who would be interested in a mud race and people who would never, ever want to do one. I am one of the former, so from my perspective this race was a blast.

If you are on the fence, there are some things you should know:
1. You will get mud... everywhere. In your ears, in your belly button, in between your toes. It's going to be a little gross. You just have to be able to deal with that fact and you'll be fine!
2. You have different preparations for a mud race: you'll want to bring towels, garbage bags, bug spray, sunscreen. It will require more cross training if you are taking the race seriously because a lot of the obstacles will demand more work out of your upper body.
3. You have to be careful. There are a lot of little rocks and grit in the mud that can scratch you, there's a lot of random pits that can twist an ankle, there are a lot of obstacles that you can hurt yourself on if you are not paying attention.
4. Bonus, though: great exfoliation for the skin! It doubles as a spa day :), right? And you will be so grateful for a shower afterwards.

Pros:
+ This race had several start times to choose from which I believe really helped with spacing. In a past mud run I did, it seemed like all the effort you gave to get to the next obstacle quickly was somewhat worthless as you often sat and waited in line behind people to complete it. There was some of this at the race, but it was very minimal due to so many groups & start times throughout the day.
+ The obstacles in the beginning are significantly easier. I don't know if they did this on purpose, but I think that also really helped space runners out.
+ This is a race most people can probably do. It is not that difficult, so if you are looking for a "tough mudder" experience, this may not be challenging enough for you. I think this obstacle race is very approachable for a large group of friends or family to do together over a great range of athleticism. You can make it a little harder if you are really pushing for a good time, but on the flip side if you find any obstacle too challenging you can always opt out and walk around it.
+ obstacles were fun and included: jumping over hay bails, army crawling through mud pits, climbing ropes, going down slides, swimming/wading through a creek, jumping barricades, running through tires, climbing ladders, making it through 2 HUGE mud pits, climbing up steep slopes
+ this particular race is set on a farm that has a creek running through it, so the race utilized the creek a lot for obstacles. The creek provided some help getting some of the mud off your body so you weren't as weighted down.
+ the course was pretty shady (I'd guess about 1/2 of it was shaded) which definitely helps for a race in mid-July.
+ I thought it was pretty well-managed, there were a good amount of water stops and people set up at different obstacles to help guide you through. Packet pick up was easy (same day, pre-race), they have some "showers" set up post-race so you can rinse off a little bit, a burger/brat, chips & a beer are included after the race (you think beer tastes good after a run? it tastes even better after a 1 hour excursion in mud).
+ There is a giant water slide at the end that is really fun to watch (and fun to do!). The attached picture is my friend and I after we went down it.

Things that could improve:
- Like I said before, it's not extremely challenging, but for most people I think that's a good thing. If you are the person that is looking for a really tough mud obstacle course, maybe look into other options with further distances
- The mud pit after mile 1 and on the way back to the finish (same pit, split going two ways) was a little extensive. It honestly took about 20 minutes of the whole race to get through that thing (10 minutes going each way). I think this race would be perfect if you only had to go through the pit once and then ended right after the water slide (and you would be a little less muddy with the water, too, making the post-race shower lines go faster).
- Races like this don't really hold people accountable for doing all the obstacles (though they claim to, but it is a really hard task for management to actually enforce), which is a good thing for some people because you shouldn't push yourself and risk injury, but it is bad for others who view this as a true competition.

Overall, I thought this mud run was really fun and I would recommend it (especially to run with a group of friends!). It definitely mixes it up from the traditional road race 5k!

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