Latest reviews by Chadd Balbi

(2017)
"Shamrock Run 2017"
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The race weekend was amazing. It seemed like everyone in the town was aware of the race. More times than not when I told people I was from Philadelphia they assumed I was there for the race. So there was a buzz in the city all weekend long.

Since I got in Friday night I went to the race expo first thing. Overall it was a really fun expo. When I run in multiple states I realize more and more how I can take races for granted. Philadelphia is a large city and that reflects it in the race. However going to smaller cities has an impact on the race (smaller expo sizes, lack of crowd support, etc.). However that was not the case here. The expo was just as large as any expo I have experienced locally. With plenty of vendors giving away fun items it was easy to get lost in the expo for quite some time. And if you didn’t have much time you could also be in and out with your bib very quickly. You truly could spend as much time at the expo as you needed.

Race morning was also very exciting. The race was set up along the waterfront in what felt like a mile stretch of land. Since it was so long there were tons of companies set up on the grass that ran parallel to the course. I saw McDonalds giving out free coffee and hash browns, Clif Bar giving away free samples (as well as having an open fire pit….it was cold!) and many other vendors. This was new to me. Most races in Philly will have a few vendors set up, but this felt more like a county fair than a race morning. I was very impressed.

There were 6 races going off that morning; the kids run, 4 mile walk, 5K, 8K, 15K and Half. So needless to say tons of people out there. However they staggered them to start about a half hour apart from each other so it never got too packed at the starting area. My fiancé ran the 5K that started at 8:00 so I went to the starting area with her. With my race not starting until 9:20 I had some time to wait. However since there was so much going on the hour and 20 minutes did not take long.

9:20 hit and I was off. Overall I enjoyed the course. Since I had never run Portland before this was all very new to me. I don’t know about regular Portland runners, but the elevation for this Philly runner was no joke. I had never experience such a steady incline for that length of time before. It felt like 3 to 4 miles in the middle of the race was a straight incline. Philly has hills that are much steeper, but they are for a short period of time and as soon as you start the hill you can usually see the end right away. Not so much here, these hills were long and they were steady. Luckily there were some downhills as well to make up for that.

As I noted earlier, when I run in other cities I tend to notice crowd sizes aren’t as large as what I am used to in Philly. However that was not the case here. Maybe it was because there were 5 other races going on, but I felt like there were a good amount of spectators on the course. As well as ample of enough water stops. Overall the race did a great job with logistics of managing 6 races at once.

There was one area that I would hope the race could change in the future. There was a 4 mile walk that started an hour after the half marathon. And it felt like the last 0.3 mile of the Half merged with the walkers course. As a result I had to bob and weave in and out of families walking the finish of their course for all that time. Having just ran almost 13 miles at that point, it made for an inconvenience. The walkers were scattered all throughout the course, most of them with children so it made running more of a game of frogger than anything else. And also took away from that special feeling of seeing a finish line and pushing hard towards it.

Overall I very much enjoyed this race. The sites were absolutely beautiful and the organizers did a great job planning all logistics. Yes I would ask them to change the 4 mile walk conflict I had, however that is small portion of what was overall an amazing time. I would highly recommend this race.

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(2017)
"My 2nd Love Run!"
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This year was my 2nd Love Run Half Marathon. As an ambassador for them I am always excited to run this race, as it is the one race that truly kicks off running season in Philadelphia. The city has their major races, and with Love Run only being 4 years old, it has skyrocketed to one of the best races Philly has to offer.

Expo:

The race directors always do an amazing job with the race expo. If you can't find it at the expo, you probably can't find it anywhere. Last year the expo was held outside in a tented area. This year they moved it to a large convention hall. I can't be specific about this, but it felt like a much larger expo this year. There were tons of vendors and things to do. They had stations set up at almost every turn for you to get a picture with official Love Run themed props. Whether it was back drops with mile markers on them or picture frames with the Love Run logo. Either way you'd be hard pressed to leave the expo without letting social media know which race you were running.

And the swag is always top notch. Runners received a long sleeve tech shirt, personalized bib as well as coffee mug. Every year runners get a free coffee mug with the Love Run logo, and I have happily been building that collection.

Course:

The course was interesting this year. Due to some conflicts with other races, the city of Philadelphia allowed the Love Run to race in more of center city than in years past. For most races in Philadelphia the runs are not done in center city. You may start out there, but it doesn't last long. I imagine because it is very costly to shut down a major metropolitan area. Instead most races spend about a mile in the city and then head northwest to the more quiet part of Philadelphia, Fairmount Park section. However the first 4 miles of the race explored the city streets. So new for 2017 runners could run down the streets of Philadelphia and enjoy a view unlike any other race Philadelphia has to offer.

After those 4 miles runners headed out to Fairmount Park. Mostly the course was flat, however around mile 7.5 there was a pretty steep hill. Just a week removed from running in Portland, this was no issue for me. This hill was maybe 100 yards long, whereas the hills in Portland were miles long. So I attacked that hill with plenty of aggression and ran hard up the whole thing. I'd like to thank Portland for getting me ready.

Miles 8 and 9 ran through the park section and back to MLK Drive that connects center city Philadelphia with Fairmount Park. There's not much to say about MLK Drive. It's a long road that most races run along due to the length as well as how secluded it is. So miles 9 through 13 headed back to center city. Right before mile 13 was the traditional small hill you have to climb to get to the finish line. This is where 90% of most races finish in Philadelphia so it is a welcomed site, because I know I am on why may to the finish.

The finish line was a great time. It widens out and runners are running across a 4 lane road with plenty of room to finish strong. This is also a centralized area for spectators so it becomes deafening as you are making your way to the finish line.

Once at the finish line each runner receives a great medal as well as plenty of post race treats. Water, bananas, heat blankets and even a free beer! (Of age of course).

Overall:

The race is always well organized. I didn’t count how many aid stations were on the course, but anytime I needed a drink of water (or Gatorade) there was an aid stop anytime I needed it. Along with this the course is well mapped out and easy to run your own pace to not impact your goals. And you’d be hard pressed to find another local race with better swag.

I thoroughly enjoy running the Love Run every year. It is only in its 4th year, however the race directors know what they are doing. Runners are bound to enjoy themselves and I highly recommend running this race.

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(2017)
"Third Frostbite 5 Miler"
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This year was my 3rd year running the Fireside Frostbite 5 Miler. It is a 5 mile race hosted by the Ambler Area Running Club (AARC) that is known for it’s chilly weather (hence the name). However this year runners lucked out. Race day morning was close to 35 degrees, unseasonably warm for the time of year. Compare this to last year where it was so cold I had icicles forming on my beard.

The race this year was as fun as it has always been. Race day morning is very easy to navigate. The race is always held at a local high school so logistics can go very smooth. However parking tends to be tight so the recommendation is to get there early. Once you are parked runners collect their bibs in the local gym. To my knowledge the race did not have anywhere only where you could confirm your bib number ahead of time so this had to be done in the gym. They had a large board with all registered racers and their bib number. So a quick check and then you headed to the table and received your bib. They also had race day registration as well. You could skip this process by picking up your bib the day before (a very nice feature) however I opted for race day bib pick up.

The course is a very scenic course throughout the neighborhood of Ambler. Runners rarely ran past the same area twice. You went from downtown Main Street of Ambler to rural neighborhoods and everywhere in between. Last year I recall a portion of the race being done over trails. This year it looks like they were able to push that part of the course onto the main street, which made for a more open running space. Also the course had just as many downhill’s as it had uphill’s so a PR is definitely attainable in this race.

After the race runners were welcomed to a post run buffet of hot dogs and other carb friendly foods. New this year every runner received a Fireside 5 Miler head wrap. That was something they did not do last year and is a very cool piece to add to the race gear pile.

The AARC (hosts) does a great job treating this race with all the amenities you would find at much larger races. Runners are afforded pre-race packet pick up, free race photos, indoor bathrooms and a post race food buffet that goes beyond just chips and an apple. Also if you were training for this race you could join the host club for weekly training runs. It is because of all this that it is very hard to pass up this race.

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(2016)
"My 2nd Lemon Run"
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The lemon run is an annual run in Philadelphia to support Alex's Lemonade stand. It is a run that brings out survivors and the families of those impacted by childhood cancer. As a result it is an easy run to put on your schedule for all of the good they do.

The run itself is an enjoyable one. It is run outside of center city Philadelphia out towards Fairmount Park. Because of this the scenery on the run is much more rural and less urban. In fact you really do not run past any urban buildings at all. The run starts outside of the Please Touch Museum and that is really the only major building you will see while running. Instead runners are subject to a much more rural, park like path that you can relax and enjoy. Along with the views the course isn't much of a challenge. The first two miles are relatively flat and with multiple downhills. Mile 2 to 3 has a few rolling hills. But overall it is a nice and easy course. It is important to note that this is a very family friendly course. If you are expecting a PR you may want to move to the front of the pack. The course is heavily filled with young runners. While I love seeing younger kids embrace running they aren't experienced racers yet. So you have to bob and weave in and out of families running together trying to manage the pace of their children which can make it difficult to run smoothly when you start out. However this run is for children so it is to be expected and I had no issues with it.

Prior to the run all those who sponsored the race have tents set up where team members can meet. And some of them are giving away free gear! Thank you to main sponsor for giving out gloves, it was chilly on race morning. Because of this the pre race festivities are very lively and exciting unlike most smaller 5K's of it's kind.

The only issue of this years race was the logistics. Everything leading up to the race said it started at 8 AM. However when runners arrived the DJ announced the race to start at 9:00. It wasn't until people started approaching the DJ (who also seemed like he was a part of the race management team) about this conflict that he announced the confusion. As a result they were able to get the race off around 8:45. It wasn't a big issue, however runners are creatures of habit so this was a bit confusing.

Overall this is a great race. Not only is it a smooth and relaxing course but it benefits a great cause. Because of this the atmosphere of this race is so much fun. Tons of runners all there to support a good cause and enjoy themselves. If you are looking for a 5K in Philadelphia you'd be hard pressed to find a better overall experience than this one. And one of the best parts? Every runner/ walker gets a medal!

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(2016)
"2016 RW Half Half Marathon"
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The half marathon was the fourth and final race of the Runners World Half and Festival weekend. Since I had run the grand slam of races (all four runs) I had my bib from running the the races prior to this (all races used the same bib). So there was no need for me to pick up a bib for the half marathon.

However it is important to note that since the expo was open all weekend bib pick up was super easy. You could go as early as 12:00 Friday afternoon to pick up your bib for any of the runs of the weekend. And since this was a whole weekend of races the expo was second to none. You could visit vendors selling traditional running gear, taste the fluids being offered on the course, or even try an alcoholic sample (if you were of age of course).

The half marathon course was a beautiful way to see Bethlehem. It started at the steel stacks, made its way through the residential neighborhoods, then through the downtown business area, back through the neighborhoods and finally ending back at the steel stacks. If you have never run that city you should know it can be pretty hilly. Overall runners experienced a change in elevation of about eight hundred feet in total. Since this was a whole weekend of races the city came out for this race and the course was still filled with spectators and even some on course entertainment. Because of the various parts of Bethlehem runners ran through it is a great way to see the city.

Post race was a continued party (this was a weekend festival after all). Runners could go back to the expo and hang out there or visit the many visitor areas that the steel stacks (race location) has to offer. You could go back into the expo or check out a few of the seminars being held post race. With this being a weekend of running there was never a shortage of things to do or see. I would highly recommend running this race (as well as all the other runs of the weekend).

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