- 3 miles/5K, 6 miles/10K, 13.1 miles/Half Marathon
- Road Race
- Event Website
<img src="http://www.runsandplaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/G0870997_1437358263752_high-1.jpg" width="417" height="309"><br>
I'm going to make kind of an odd comparison here. Stay with me until the end though and hopefully this will make sense by the time you're done reading this review....
There's a restaurant in Ohio called <a href="http://bspotburgers.com/">B-Spot Burgers</a>, which has been voted to be the top burger place in the United States for the last four years in a row. It's run by a gourmet chef named Michael Symon and features the highest quality meats, hundreds of different combinations of ingredients that can be used to create custom burgers and an excellent selection of craft beers. And then on the other hand.... there's McDonald's....
So let's say you finish a race and you want to go out for a post-race burger and a beer. Which of those two places sounds more appealing to you?
If you think that sounds like a dumb question, you're right. But there's actually a deeper question here that's not so dumb: McDonald's is a multi-billion dollar global corporation with more than enough money to hire an army of top notch gourmet chefs that easily could create mind-blowingly delicious meals if they wanted to. So why can't McDonald's produce a decent burger? The answer is simple, but it's probably not what you would think: the reason you'll never see gourmet chefs at McDonald's is because hiring them would be in direct conflict with the company's business plan, which is to produce consistent food at every location. Have you ever noticed that if you eat a McDonald's cheeseburger in Chicago it tastes exactly the same as one you would eat in Dallas? Or Singapore for that matter? That's intentional and McDonald's has gone to great lengths to ensure that that's the case.
From a business point of view, this makes perfect sense. Standardized processes are cost effective and easy to manage and enforce. The problem is that as you have to standardize processes across more and more locations, it usually comes at the expense of quality. All of the food that gets produced at McDonalds uses specific types of ingredients that can be found anywhere in the world, regardless of whether or not there might be better ones available in certain areas. The workers follow a strict set of processes to cook, clean, take out the garbage, etc.... These might not be the best processes but they are the easiest ones to standardize. Have you ever stood in line inside of a McDonald's and noticed all of the bells and buzzers going off in the kitchen to let people know when to pull the fries out of the oil or flip the burgers over? That's all part of the plan. If the McDonald's rulebook says that a Big Mac patty has to be cooked for 47 seconds on each side in Los Angeles, it will also be cooked for 47 seconds on each side in London. Not 46... not 48.... A gourmet chef would want to use locally sourced ingredients and improvise on the recipes based on what's in season. If we want to keep things consistent across all of our locations globally, well we can't have that now, can we?
This brings me to the <a href="http://www.runrocknroll.com/">Rock n Roll Marathon Series</a> from Competitor Group. When I ran my first Rock n Roll Marathon in Nashville in 2006 (which was called the Country Music Marathon at the time), it was a unique experience. I ran Rock n Roll Arizona a few months later and it was a totally different experience. At the time, there were only four races in the Rock n Roll Marathon Series and while San Diego based Competitor Group was the overall headquarters for the series, the individual races were organized locally. Over the last several years, the Rock n Roll Marathon Series has expanded to more than 30 different cities across the globe and as part of that expansion, Competitor Group has had to centralize its operations and standardize a lot of its processes, which in some cases has affected the quality of the races.
Did I just compare one of the biggest race series in the world to a horrible fast food chain? Yes, yes I did....
Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy the Rock n Roll Marathon series races. And I'm not saying that you shouldn't like them. In fact, I specifically picked the Rock n Roll Chicago 5K to be my daughter Sara's first race because I knew she would enjoy the experience.
What I'm saying though is that in a lot of cases, Rock n Roll Marathon races are pretty much just cookie cutter races that are exactly the same regardless of where you do them. I noticed when I was writing <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ZS53PE0">my book</a> about marathons and half marathons in the Southeastern United States that the chapters about Rock n Roll Nashville, Rock n Roll Savannah, Rock n Roll New Orleans, and Rock n Roll Virginia Beach all seemed to kind of overlap with each other and say a lot of the same things. The only real difference between any of the Rock n Roll series races is that they happen to be in different cities and have different designs on their finisher's medals. Otherwise, the expo layout, schedule of events, starting corrals, water table locations, number of runners, etc... are pretty much all the same. I don't have much to specifically say about the 2015 Rock n Roll Chicago Half Marathon because if you want to know my thoughts on it, you can just go back and read my review of the 2014 race. Or any of the other Rock n Roll races that I've reviewed for that matter.
This is something that's been going through my mind for a while now but the reason I'm pointing this out in this particular review is because I also noticed something during last Sunday's half marathon: In 2015, the heat and humidity were awful during race weekend. The forecast predicted a 105 heat index. I'm not sure if it ever got up that high, but temperatures were definitely in the 90's with high humidity and running this race was extremely uncomfortable. There were more than a dozen runners who had to be taken to the hospital because of heat related issues. I'm not blaming the race organizers for this. Like I said in my review of the 5K, if you're going to run in Chicago, you should be prepared for extreme weather.
Here's the thing though: in 2014, Chicago saw a near record cold front come through during race weekend and the temperature only got into the high 70's on race day (still not ideal for running, but a lot better than 2015). Yet the services that were available for runners to use to cool down were exactly the same in both races: an open fire hydrant spraying water on the course around mile 6, bags of ice at the medical tents, some wet sponges at mile 10, a misting tunnel at mile 11, and another open fire hydrant across the street from the finisher's corral. Why didn't anyone at Competitor Group say "Hey, since there's a heat advisory during race weekend this year, we should maybe look into setting up some cooling centers along the course like we do in Virginia Beach"? The reason is because everyone involved with planning the race was simply following the standard set of directions sent from the corporate headquarters that told them exactly how to set up the Rock n Roll Chicago course.
Standardized processes typically only work well when conditions are ideal. If this had been a truly local race that was run by a local group of Chicago running enthusiasts as opposed to some big corporation based in San Diego, I have no doubt that there are a lot of things that would have been handled differently on race day.
If you have read any of my other race reviews, you probably want to call me out at this point because I typically write about what an innovate company Compeitor Group is for coming up with the idea to combine the experiences of running a marathon with the experience of going to a rock concert. And I still believe that. In that particular area, they've done a great job. But along those same lines, McDonald's is also a very innovative company (or at least they used to be anyway). McDonald's got to be as big as it is by managing to successfully combine the restaurant industry with the real estate industry. That's no secret. <a href="http://seekingalpha.com/article/73533-mcdonalds-is-a-real-estate-company">Ray Kroc even said that himself when he was still alive.</a> That doesn't mean that McDonald's makes the best burgers you'll ever eat in your life though. Innovation and quality are two different things.
So, like I said, there's nothing wrong with the Rock n Roll Marathon Series races. The races are fun and you'll pretty much always know what to expect whenever and wherever you decide to run one. I'll probably even do this one again next year. I'm not trying to rip on Competitor Group either. Every business eventually comes to a point where it has to try to standardize its processes if it wants to continue to grow and in many ways, the folks at Competitor Group are just trying to do what's best for their organization as a whole even if it means that the quality of some of the individual races has to suffer a little bit. The only thing I'm really saying here is that if someone were to ask me what the best half marathon is to do in Chicago, I would have a very hard time recommending Rock n Roll Chicago when there are so many <a href="http://www.chicagohalfmarathon.com/">other half marathons</a> around the city that have more of a uniquely local feel to them.
Now that I'm done writing this review, I think I'll go grab a burger....
<img src="http://www.runsandplaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/20150719_113515.jpg" width="442" height="249">