Latest reviews by Heather

(2016)
"Great Race Benefiting a Great Foundation!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Voltion America was held on Saturday, June 4 at Busse Woods. Location: Ned Busse Preserve E. Higgins Rd. and N. Arlington Heights Rd. Busse Woods, Elk Grove, IL 60007. Temps were in the 60s and 70s, high humidity, and some raining on and off. I've never run through Busse Woods, but thought it was a great change of scenery from the LFP. There was a lot of shade, so even though the majority of the morning was cloudy, it was nice to be under trees. 7am start for the half, 7:15 for 5k. For me, this was my first half of the weekend with another Sunday morning, so my plan was to take it easier and run slower with my mom, and save some energy for Sunday. Here are my thoughts on Pros and Cons, in my opinion.

PROS:
+ Three Packet Pickup Options: Thursday, June 2 2–7 at Road Runner Sports in Naperville; Friday, June 3rd 2–7pm at Road Runner Sports Kildee; Saturday, June 4th 6:00am at Race Site
+ I went to pickup on Friday, as I wasn't too far for another pickup in Deerfield, so figured why not get it out of the way and have less stress Saturday morning (I stress when it's a new-to-me race and don't know where I'm going) - pickup was quick and easy, and I even met someone that was helping organize the race. She was super sweet and helped me figure out the parking situation (that it was plentiful!)
+ Though no official address was given for where in Busse Woods it would be starting, it was pretty easy to find on my Google Map app, drop a pin, and then get directions that way. They provided a general address on the website, plus there was a map of the race site and an email was sent with directions.
+ Race week included a few emails with information and updates. This was very helpful.
+ Parking was plentiful, and I think the farthest you'd be is about a mile. We were about .5 mile back, but the walk was nice. We were also near an indoor bathroom, so used that before heading over.
+ A nice touch - they had busses to take you from the parking to the start, if you didn't want to walk.
+ Race started about 8 minutes late (which was good for me, because I decided to use the bathroom again and had enough time to do so once the line was nonexistent, hence why I put it in the pros haha).
+ DJ at the start/finish line (they were the same) and announcer (Dave if you know him - he's at a TON of Chicago races)
+ Plenty of aid stations (I think about every 1.5 miles) that included a portapottie. Also, in Busse Woods, there were a lot of indoor bathrooms that were near the aid stations, if you wanted plumbing.
+ Aid stations were well stocked with different flavors of Gatorade (orange, blue, and yellow) and water. If I didn't know what volunteers were holding, I would just ask 'Water?' and someone with water would give me a cup.
+ Great volunteers and SO many friendly runners offering each other encouragement.
+ I never saw anything about time limit, but just looked at the website FAQ and saw it was 3 hours. However, there were quite a few people out there over the 3 hour limit and the finish line was still set up. I thought I overheard someone say that they weren't sticking with the limit, which is good since I was over it too.
+ SWAG included a white/grey camo-like shirt, finisher medal, and a blue drawstring bag with Volition America logo on it.
+ Nice course through Busse Woods. Though there were a good amount of non-racers out there (runners, walkers, cyclists) - everyone was polite. Unlike the LFP when most cyclists run you down, even when you are as far right as you can go, without warning, the cyclists here were all super nice, let you know they were coming, and thanked you (I also thank them when they shout out their warning, so they know it's appreciated).
+ Post race snacks included a cup of pretzels, cup of animal crackers, bananas, apples, bottled water, and cups of gatorade.
+ Free race photo downloads.

CONS:
- I think my only con was the beer selection. It was Lakeshore Beverage (a distributor that has lots of craft beers), but unfortunately, I think you know which two beer options they had. Honestly it was fine as I had to get home to shower & go to parties, but I feel maybe if I complain enough some races might change their options ;)
- The race shirt was a bit small. I was unsure when registering if they were unisex or would have women's cuts, since it didn't specify, which led me to choose my shirt size as a unisex size. I feel like it fits like a women's cut though, and could have gone up a size. I'm sure I could have exchanged it, but figured since I'm running the same race (different location) in September, I'd email and try and change my shirt size for that race. Maybe if I lose that weight I'm supposed to the other size will fit eventually haha.

OTHER (neither PROS or CONS in my opinion):
• Before the start we had the pledge of allegiance and the National Anthem. As a background, the RD (Major Dan Rooney, USAFR F-16 Fighter Pilot) for this race is the man who founded Folds of Honor, which provides scholarships and assistance to the spouses and children of of those killed or disabled in service to America. I think that's a great cause to help benefit with the race costs and to bring awareness to the foundation itself.
• Miles were marked with flags, along with major K marks (5k, 15k, etc). Clocks at a few of the miles, but not all.
• Smaller field of runners than I'm used to (tops 500), but was good since Busse Woods trail isn't super wide. I liked the feel of the smaller race, plus there was no need for waves.

Honestly, the nit-picky cons don't have any weight here. It was a great race, well organized, and the entire thing was surrounded but great folks. Definitely adding this to my race list for 2017, and I'm looking forward to another weekend of back-to-back half in September, when Volition will be on Sunday, September 11.

You can read a longer, personal recap here: http://www.heatherrunsthirteenpointone.com/2016/06/volition-elk-grove-half-marathon.html

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(2016)
"Super fun race finishing on the field!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The PNC Chicago Bears 5k took place on Saturday, June 25, 2016 with an 8am start time. I believe this was the first year, as it replaced the Super Bears Shuffle which used to take place in September. The reason for the move to June was to give Bears fans an opportunity to finish on Soldier Field, which was not an option during the football season. The weather was upper 70s with 60% humidity and it was all sun. The course started on Waldron Drive, headed south (through the McCormick Place tunnel), turnaround at mile 1.3ish, and finished on Soldier Field.

PROS:
+ You were able to pick up your packet and any friends/families - just show ID (they actually checked). You needed to know your bib number, but if you didn't look it up ahead of time, they had a computer to do so. The lines were organized by number (1–999, 1000–1999, up to 6000 I think).
+ $10 option VIP Race Day Packet Pick-Up - pick up your packet on race day at the Information tent from 6:30–7:45am
+ Though there was a bit of traffic, I felt it was managed well - plenty of parking in Waldron Deck, the South Lot, or the North Garage. The garage you got was dependent on what lane you turned from/in. I was directed to the South lot. Parking was $20 and you paid as you entered.
+ Gender-specific dri-fit Nike shirt
+ There were pace signs to help with proper line-up (6mm, 8mm, 10mm, 12mm, 14mm) and the start went off in waves. There were 5 different starts, about 4 minutes apart I think.
+ There was one aid station with water. Since it was hot, I just brought my own hydration, but seemed to be plenty at the stop.
+ Music on course at multiple locations.
+ Mile markers.
+ Course was well marked.
+ Super awesome getting to run under the stadium and then come out of the tunnel like the Bears do. Running on the field is pretty sweet.
+ Fantastic finisher medals.
+ Walker and family friendly. 1 hour time limit.
+ Relaxed atmosphere, fun theme. Loved seeing all of the blue and orange, fun Bears gear, etc.
+ Other than the medal, finishers received a dry towel (the kind you wet down and they cool you off), banana, bottled water, and fruit snacks.
+ Post-race party outside the field with beer, live music, food, and tents - PNC was giving out fun koozies, but they had run out by the time I got there so they were giving away blue towels with the Bears/PNC logo.

CONS:
- Very crowded course. Even when you were at a wider space, like down inner Lake Shore Dr (or whatever the street is called), it was tough to get around. Unless you are super fast, I wouldn't use this race to PR due to the cross.
- Though the start had signs so people could line up according to pace, that wasn't the case. We started in the back since we are slower, and somehow still had massive amounts of people pushing through the crowd. I don't understand why faster runners don't start in the faster pace group? It gets so dangerous with the weaving in and out in tight quarters, nearly tripping people up.
- The cups used at the water station were plastic, which are a pain when people don't throw in the trash. They don't crumble nice like paper cups, so they are more dangerous when they are thrown on the ground and you are trying to run through them.

OTHER:
• Packet Pickup was at Road Runner Sports in Chicago on Thursday from 4–8pm and Friday 12–8pm.
• Parking was pretty hectic at packet pickup. I got lucky to pull into the lot and see someone leaving, so I got a spot pretty easily, but it was jam packed and I saw people driving around. I was there around 1pm on Friday, and wasn't expecting it to be so crowded.
• B-tag timing device (on the back of the bib)
• 1st Half Registration $45 | April 15 - May 26 at 11:59 pm > 2nd Half Registration $50 | May 27 - June 9 at 11:59 pm > Final Registration $55 | June 10 - June 21. Online registration closes on Wednesday, June 22nd at 7:00pm.
• Free beer (Miller Lite) for every participant 21+

Though there were minor issues like the course being crowded and the plastic cups, I wouldn't say they put a damper on my fun. I would definitely consider doing this race again next year - nothing like finishing on the field and the SWAG was top notch. If you're a Bears fan I'd say this race is for you!

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(2016)
"Hilly course, great race support!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The RAM Racing North Shore Classic 5k and half marathon were held on Sunday, June 5. The 5k started first at 7am and the half at 7:30. Corrals A and B were for the 5k, C–H were the half marathon. Race day temps were in the upper 60s, with 70% humidity and partly cloudy. There was a bit of a breeze, and though it felt cool before starting, the humidity was what was tough about this race. Oh, and the hills. Maybe for people that are used to it it wasn't so bad, but I had no idea they were happening until the race started, and it was basically a rolling hills with one or two pretty steep ones throughout the course. Going down was fun, but getting up them took a lot of effort (I also did a half marathon the day before, so I was a little tired).

PROS:
+ Packet pickup had two locations and different days. I had planned on getting to Fleet Feet Old Town on Thursday, but ended up working later than expected. Their pickup was from 4–8. Friday's pickup was at Fleet Feet Deerfield, 2–6 (this is what I attended), and then Friday in Deerfield again from 10am–6pm.
+ Packet pickup was easy. Though I didn't know the store location (first timer at the Deerfield location, which I later learned was new), getting there wasn't difficult. Parking was plentiful... and free! There was a short line for pickup, but there were a lot of workers/volunteers, so it moved quickly. I was also picking up fellow BibRavePro Mark's packet. No problem. I had both QR codes for myself and Mark, and they quickly got me both and I was back out the door in no time.
+ SWAG at pickup included a gender specific t-shirt with a unique design, your bib, and RAM Racing drawstring bag.
+ Race day parking had me anxious, as this was my first year and I didn't know the area at all. It was mentioned that it's plentiful, and they even offered up different garages/parking lots available. This was appreciated, as it gave me an idea of where to go/look. I had one garage picked out, and when I got there, there was a sign saying RAM Racing parking with an arrow, which made it easy to find. Plenty of spots available in there, and when I walked to race start, noticed another lot closer that still had spots too. Looks like they were right - plentiful.
+ Race starts were on time, and there were maybe 3–4 minutes between each wave/corral. The race seemed to be fairly small compared to what I'm used to, but it was nice.
+ Plenty of porta-potties with hand washing stations (yay!)
+ Race had pacers (Chicago Endurance) - the sweeper, who was the 15 minute mile pace (the slowest they allowed), was one of the same pacers I had seen the day before. We talked briefly, and she said to stay ahead of her. Luckily, I didn't see her at all during the race. I was afraid with having a half the day before and not getting much rest or sleep that I'd be trying to stay ahead of her the whole time, but I managed well (for me).
+ Majority of the race took place on streets. Most were closed off, but running through the neighborhood sometimes there'd be a car or two, but everyone was aware of the runners, went slow, and did their best to drive on the side where runners weren't.
+ LOTS of police men and women and volunteers helping with intersections, course changes (left, right, straight), and keeping the runners safe. I thanked just about all of them as I passed. Most replied with a thank you, you're welcome, or a 'great job, keep it up. So friendly and awesome to have the support.
+ Course was well marked, mile markers every mile and clocks maybe every 2? Details like that I forget, but I know they had them at most, if not all, mile markers.
+ Aid stations approximately every 1.5 miles. Had water and Nuun (not my favorite, so I brought my own electrolyte drink). I took Nuun once or twice to give it another try, but not a fan of the new formula. I believe they had both Lemon Lime and Tri Berry, alternating each station. I took water at most of the other stops. Mile 7/7.5ish had a group in costumes AND giving out munchkins. This was so welcomed, as I was starting to crash and with the busy-ness of the weekend I forgot my chews. Thank you volunteers!
+ Some of the other runners in my area were characters, hamming it up, or just pushing themselves so much that it helped me push myself. I found one runner that was a similar pace and told myself to stay with her the entire race - even if I got tired, which I did, I had to keep trucking. I high-fived her after we finished (she came in ahead of me, but I was very happy with how it went). Setting a goal like that helped me finish stronger in this race than the race the day before.
+ The majority of the course was in the shade. There was one part where it was out to the town of Fort Sheridan, around, and back, which was in the sun. Luckily, we got some clouds for part of that.
+ At one point, there were a lot of cars coming from different sides, so I went up on the sidewalk, and the officer holding the cars back said to take the street - it was for the runners and to enjoy. I thought that was really cool.
+ Some of the residents came out to cheer. One resident around mile 6.5ish was handing out 8oz of bottled water. What a great man!
+ The scenery was great. I got a glimpse of Lake Michigan, and the houses were beautiful.
+ At the finish line, the announcer gave me a high five and then I received my medal (it was huge), a bottle of water, they had cups of Nuun available, a cold, wet towel, and then a bag with snacks (banana, mini bagel in a bag, bag of mini pretzels, Rice Krispy treat, Silk chocolate milk). I appreciate that it was all in one bag - made it easy to carry afterwards. Even though I'm starving while I run, when I finish it takes me a while before I can eat anything.
+ Free race photo downloads.

CONS:
... none. Unless we count having Nuun on course. I'm just not a fan of the Nuun formula since they changed it, but that's all personal preference. Some people love it. I liked that they let us know ahead of time that Nuun would be on course, so I knew to bring my own drink.

I always feel like I'm so lenient with my review, but honestly, I am racking my brain to think of something I didn't like (that was in the race organizers hands), and I can't. It was well organized, plenty of event communication about pickup, race day events, etc. No beer at the finish, so no complaints that it was one I don't like haha. The neighborhood and everyone working was friendly. Easy and free parking. Great job, RAM! I mean, I'm not a big fan of hills or humidity... but that is what it is. I'm thankful the temps weren't higher, as then I really might have had some problems keeping pace. Phew.

My full on recap: http://www.heatherrunsthirteenpointone.com/2016/06/north-shore-classic-2016-recap.html

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(2016)
"Great Race!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The Chicago Spring Half was held on Sunday, May 22. Start time was 7am with a wave start. The last corral was 'I', which I was in, and I crossed the start at 7:34... which meant the 10k at 7:30 started later than scheduled. The weather was sunny and started in low-60s and ended in the lower-70s I think. Event Alert System was set at green.

PROS:
+ The race was well managed - lots of emails with updates.
+ Packet pickup was at Fleet Feet Old Town on Thursday, May 19 (4–8 pm), Friday, May 20 (4–8 pm), and Saturday, May 21 (10 am – 6 pm)
+ We were able to validate our parking ticket so only paid $2 to park (might have been free, but we did a stop at Starbucks afterwards.
+ Packet pickup was easy – you received an email with your bib number, go to the line with your number (ie 1–1000), show you ID, and voila. You could also get your wristband for the drink tent, but they needed to put it on you then. I declined, as I wouldn't be getting a beer, and if I were, I didn't want to have to wear the wristband. Can't say how the lines were for the beer or to get a wristband at the event. The shirts were a brighter green color with a cool design - different from other race shirts I have, which I appreciate.
+ You could pickup on behalf of other participants with a copy of their ID and confirmation email.
+ Gear Check opened at 5:30 am, 6 am start corrals open for the 13.1, gear check closed at 6:30, and the start was at 7am (from the back I couldn't hear everything, so assume it started on time, but can't say for sure).
+ Gear check, after party was at the Park at Lakeshore East, and the Start line was at Dusable Harbor.
+ Gear check re-opemed at 8 am and the Market 14 Finish Festival opened at 8:30am (gear check closes 11:45)
+ The course closed at 11:30, which would give the last corrals about 4 hours to finish.
+ The course was an out and back down the Lakefront Path (LFP) - it was a bright sunny day, so the water was glittering and the scenery was pretty. I usually get bored with the path after a few races, but coming back from winter it was a nice view.
+ On Course support was great - I saw a bunch of Race Guards as well as 10 Aid Stations with Skratch Labs Lemons + Limes (YAY!) and water. I think a few only had water, but that was ok. Mil 4/8.3 had Carb Boom! energy gels. Aid Stations also had 3 porta toilets and a medical tent.
+ We parked at the Millennium Park Garage near Lakeshore East (the pay stations weren't working, but were able to use a credit card to pay on the way out.
+ I think it you live in the city it would have been pretty easy to get there via bike or CTA.
+ Pace teams (Chicago Endurance Sports) 1:30 1:40 1:45 1:50 2:00 2:10 2:20 2:30 2:45 3:00
+ Mostly flat and fast - a few pothole-like areas when you got on the lower part of the path (when you are right next to the lake).
+ On course entertainment - DJs, bands, singers
+ Mile markers and clocks; markings for the 10k and half turnaround; plenty of cones to help navigate the course.
+ The medals have a ferris wheel that spins!
+ Finish line = medal, bottled water, wet towels, bottle of Body Armor (I got Blackout Berry - not sure if there were other flavors), bags of chips and pretzels
+ On your bib you could get 2 beers and a breakfast. Breakfast menu = egg scramble, pancakes, potatoes and sausage and there were Dole mixed fruit or pear.
+ Finish Line Festival had - pot your own flowers to bring home, Skinny Pop sample bags, race tents for charities, photos with Finisher background.

CONS:
- The sponsor/name of the race is Michelob Ultra. I get it, but with all the craft breweries in the city, I'd really love for them to be the post-race option. Show some love to local Chicago companies.

I think that's my only con. Being such a nice day meant the LFP was a bit crowded, but generally it wasn't tooooo bad. The runners were very supportive and it seemed everyone was having a good time. It'll be on my list for next year. I also like that it's part of the Chicagoland Race Series Challenge, so running this and the Chicago Half in September gets you another medal for the challenge.

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(2016)
"Not quite Finish on the 50 as advertised, but still great race."
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The Soldier Field 10 Mile was held on Saturday, May 28 with a 7am start for the waves. Temps were in the mid- to upper 70s with about 75% humidity, and sunny,

PROS:
+ Multiple dates and locations for pickups. Naperville Running Company, Saturday, May 14, 2016 - 10am to 6pm; Fleet Feet Deerfield, Thursday, May 19, 2016 - 3pm to 7pm; Fleet Feet Oak Park Saturday, May 21, 2016 - 10am to 6pm; Fleet Feet Old Town, Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - Friday, May 27, 2016 - 10am to 8pm.
+ Mailing packet option for I think $15.
+ Plenty of emails with race information.
+ Ability to pick up other participant packets. Needed confirmation email with code.
+ 5 mostly well-stocked aid stations on course with both water and Nuun. The first one didn't seem to have any Nuun when we went by, and there was one or two where I had to take from the table because no one was passing out, or they couldn't pour quickly enough to re-fill and get someone out there to hand out. Not a big deal IMO; I was able to get what I needed when.
+ Aid stations also had portapotties.
+ The wave starts allow for the course to not get too cramped. I'm not a huge fan of going under McCormick Place, but it takes you to LSD, which is better than having up and back be all on the LFP. No way would that many runners fit.
+ SWAG was a finishers medal and red Under Armour SF10 tech shirt (I would say it fit true to size).
+ Course was clearly marked.
+ All volunteers and workers were friendly, energetic, and motivating.
+ Getting your finisher medal from an active military man/woman is really something special. I made sure to thank as many as I could for their service.
+ Post race goodies included bottled water and a plastic bag that you would receive after going through the stadium, past gear check, and outside - had tortilla chips, cliff mini, and banana. Glad they do it in bags to make it easier to carry, but I did miss the reusable bags of the past.
+ Finishing on the field is really cool, however this year there is a negative to it. Read on...
+ Post-race party includes a live band, samples of products, Goose Island 312, a slip and slide, charity tents.
+ FREE PARKING if you arrived before a certain time. I didn't know this until getting there (unlike my mom, I hadn't read through the entire participant guide... she was prepared haha). If you are from Chicago or run here ever, you know this is a big deal. Usually to park at SF it costs $20, and that's a race day special.
+ Cold wet towel post race. Ahhhh, felt so good.
+ Post race party goes till 11 and a lot of people stick around. Great to hang out with your faster running friends :) Also, that means a lot are out there to help cheer in the final runners.

CONS:
- For me personally, I am not a fan of the new Nuun formula. So for all the years I wished they were on course, now that they finally are, it's disappointing because I'm not a fan anymore. Obviously this is all personal preference, but I would have preferred the usual Gatorade (or if they were going something different, then Skratch would be my vote).
- Regarding that Finish on the 50... Beyonce's concert was on Friday and Saturday night, and the field was completely covered up by the stage and the flooring, so not quite the same experience as previous years when you are literally running on the field.
- Bottle neck at the beginning before heading into McCormick Place tunnel can be tough to maneuver around. Lots of people running on the grass, some pushing. That's mainly the only troublesome area, but not sure how that could be fixed at all.
- I missed the cute, small reusable bags that were given out in years past with the food in them.

OTHER:
• Not sure if this was because of the concert, but you run underneath the stadium for a longer than previous years... so while you're like I'm at the end! you still actually have a little bit longer to go haha. Not really a con, just something to make note of, I feel.
• Free race photos. They won't be up until Thursday, so I can't say positive or negative until I see if I actually have photos. Usually when they are free, it means less photographers at the start, finish, or on course, and I'm lucky to even get one photo. We shall see.

It's a great way to kick of Memorial Day Weekend and to say thanks to those members of the military that are there handing out medals, running, etc. I do love this race and it's unique aspects are what keep me coming back each year. No, the race isn't cheap, but it's worth it.

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