Packet pick-up: Participants were encouraged to pick up their packets on 7/3. Since I had to make a special trip to pick mine up, I decided to volunteer for a couple hours in the afternoon. I heard the wait was over an hour when they opened that morning. I think it was extra busy because many people had the day off. Pick-up was at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which is actually where the race started and finished, so it gave people a chance to scope out the area the day before, but you did have to pay for parking. As far as packet pick-up itself, you had to look up your bib number in the hallway, then go in and find the sign at the table that had your bib number, but those signs were somewhat hard to see. After you had your bib number, you proceeded to another table to get your chip and another table to get your t-shirt.
Swag: I was very bummed with the swag. This is the first "real" race I've participated in, other than a couple of very small races, so I was hoping for some good swag since there were over 2000 participants. The shirt was advertised as a moisture management t-shirt, which I thought would be more of a driFit, but it's really just a t-shirt. I missed the deadline for guaranteed sizing, but I'm not sure how they were doing guaranteed sizing as it appeared it was just a free for all based on when you arrived. Since I got my packet only 3 hours into registration, I was surprised they didn't have my size. Shirts were gender specific, but I should have asked if I could trade for a men's shirt as the women's cut seems like more of a baby tee, which is not my style. There were numerous flyers for upcoming races, but only one free sample in the bag and it was for toothpaste.
Aid Stations: I didn't see any first aid stations along the course, but there were plenty of water stops, easily at least 1 every mile and plenty of spectators along the course who I'm sure could have called for help if needed.
Course Scenery: It was an out and back course, which can be boring for some, but it actually wasn't that bad. I was in the back of the pack, so it was a little depressing when I was only 1.3 miles in and already saw the leaders heading back toward the finish line, but I kept looking for my friends' faces and they gave me a smile, wave and look of encouragement as they headed back toward the finish line. I just wish they would have been more spread out instead of in the same tenth of a mile. There were lots of spectators sitting on their front lawns and cheering us on. One house had a sprinkler out. Another house had lots of posters out, ranging from "Don't stop running now, people are watching." to "Nothing like the smell of 2000+ runners in the morning." to "For once someone is running and it's not from the police." to "I just farted. Run faster."
My only real frustration with the course was that a 5k started 15 minutes after the 8k and ran the same course, they just turned around sooner. Unfortunately, for slower 8k runners like me, that meant that I reached that point as some of the 5k walkers did and I got stuck behind them and had to weave in and out, working harder to reach that finish line. However, when I did finally reach that finish line, it was pretty cool to hear my name announced for the first time!
Expo Quality: There really wasn't an expo so to speak, but the local running store did have a small area at packet pick-up with some gear and shoes available for purchase.
Elevation Difficulty: It was a pretty "easy" course, with just one smaller hill than I can recall.
Parking/Access: I was more concerned with parking then the actual race itself since this was being held downtown and there was a farmer's market being held during the race, so crowds were huge. I parked in my first choice of ramp, which was actually just 1 block away from the start line, and it turned out that parking was free, so I didn't have to pay all morning!
A couple other things I wanted to mention:
Price: I paid around $38 ($33 or $35 + a convenience fee for registering online) for this race because I waited to register until the week before (price went up to I think $40 for on-site registration at packet pick-up and there were a ton of people doing that, no same day registration). Those that registered by a certain deadline got a big printed with their name on it, in addition to getting the lower price.
Medals: I was so excited to get this medal as it's my first real one. However, I was bummed because the medals were exactly the same for the 5k and the 8k, but I know I did the 8k.
Post Race Party: The post race party was okay. There wasn't really any entertainment. People grabbed their snacks and left. There were Bomb Pops, watermelon, bananas, granola bars, cookies and water. They weren't checking to make sure people were race participants, but they had more than enough food. I even left to explore the farmer's market for a bit and stopped back to grab something and they still had some left. Each participant received 2 tickets for free beer at a local bar, but it was very crowded, so I also waited until that cleared out before redeeming them, but the beer was so awful I couldn't even choke it down.
At this point, I don't know if I'll run the race again. I am a small town girl and don't like crowds and there were SO many people at this race, both participants and spectators. However, it did push me to rush a time I didn't even know I was capable of, so we will see. I'm glad I did it! If I don't run next year, I think I will at least try to volunteer at packet pick-up again. It was fun to see everyone coming in to pick up their packets and it takes a lot of volunteers to put on this event.