Latest reviews by Chadd Balbi

(2016)
"My first time running in Atlanta!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
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This race was an inaugural race in Atlanta. They also host these runs in Phoenix and San Diego. You can learn about them on their website.

Swag/ Bib Pick Up:

The bib pick up for this race was at the local Road Runners Sports store. Since they are the sponsor this made sense. However my only concern here was the location. I stayed about 5 minutes from the race start. However to get my bib took a 45 minute drive north. Assuming others were local to the race area, I can imagine a lot of people took this trip. In the next coming years I would recommend to the race directors that they try and centralize the bib pick up, but also make it more of an expo. If they want to give this race a big time feel, I would say put it in the heart of Atlanta, invite vendors and make it a traditional expo.

Regardless of this the pick up process was very smooth. They had tables set up in the store where you could get in line and get all the swag and your bibs. They even offered free samples of Nuun (the hydration drink that would be on the course). Adidas was also onsite offering samples of shoes. You even got 10% off an instore purchase with your swag (which I took advantage of).

There was a person (possibly the race director, not sure) high fiving everyone who came in. Everyone was super friendly and made for a great overall first impression.

The swag was great. Since it was a beer themed run each runner received a complimentary pint glass. Once again appealing to the craft beer lover in me. And instead of a shirt with the race logo on it men got a t-shirt that read “On A Beer Run” and woman got the same but in tank top style. I was happy about this because I am 10 times as likely to wear this shirt out vs wearing a race shirt. (Not the kind to socially hang out in my race shirts). The bib was also beer themed as it was in the shape of a six pack beer holder. We also received a pair of knock around sunglasses. Super comfortable. So overall the swag was very impressive!

The Course:

The race course was an interesting one. I say interesting because it is hard for me to make comparisons. I am used to running in Philadelphia where even a 5K with a few hundred runners will have a number of spectators. I am not familiar with the Atlanta running scene. Overall the course was very quiet. I can probably count on two hands the amount of people who were out there spectating the course. So it felt very lonely at times. Not a bad experience by any means, just unique for someone used to running in a city where races feel like parades and not organized runs.

The course also went down some odd paths that I am not familiar with as a runner. For a majority of the course they did not shut down the roads. Parts of the road was shut down however they were still active. At one point we were running down a highway with one lane blocked off (as seen below). Other times we would run down a two lane road with traffic operating on both sides. And for about 3 miles the course ran down an active running path. While you may think to yourself a running path is ideal for running. Think of a half marathon running down your local running trail. I had to avoid bikers, roller bladers and even the people out for their Saturday walk. Made for an interesting few miles.

Despite the active roads and odd running paths the race handled this very well. There was 1 police officer at EVERY intersection. And I do not mean major intersection, I mean any time a road intersected with the main road we were running on there was at least one police office. Not volunteer…..Police Officer. The safety they provided on this course was second to none.

Post Race:

After the race was over each runner received the same medal, regardless if you ran the 5K or Half Marathon. The medal was in the shape of a beer tap handle and had a bottle opener on the back of it. My recommendation would be to flip the bottle opener on the front of the medal so you can hang the medal and use it as an opener at the same time. Either way it was a cool medal for a beer lover like me.

Speaking of beer, each of age runner also received a free beer from Monday Night Brewing at the end of the race. This was the first time I really ran a race and received a craft beer. Most races just have your usual domestic macro beer that costs next to nothing. Instead I got to enjoy a delicious IPA (my favorite) after the 13.1 miles were over.

Overall Experience:

Overall I really did enjoy myself. This was an inaugural race so if they do it again in 2017 there are always things they can improve upon. However my experience running this race was so positive that I would definitely run again in 2017. If anything the uniqueness of the race course leaves me with awesome stories to tell. Everyone I met while in Atlanta was supportive and friendly. I would recommend this race to anyone who asks.

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(2016)
"2nd Rock N Roll Race, 1st 5K"
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The best thing about running a 5K in the city of Philadelphia is how exciting they are. Having began to run in other states, it is giving me a stronger appreciation of the running community of Philadelphia. This 5K had over 2,000 runners in it. Compare that to a Half Marathon I ran in another state recently that only had 600 runners. Needless to say, Philadelphia comes out for races.

The run was the normal Philadelphia route, starting at the Art Museum, or for out of towners, the famous Rocky Steps. The course headed down Martin Luther King Dr. for a mile and a half, turned around and finished back at the Art Museum steps. Not a difficult course by any means as MLK Dr. is primarily flat. The beauty of this course is that it is a four lane road that they shut down completely. So while there was over 2,000 runners there was plenty of room to move around and never felt crowded.

As a result of the open space and flat course, most 5K’s that run this path provide for a positive experience. However just because it is a flat and open out and back, doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yourself. Because of the area that it is in, the course does cross some very pretty scenes and at times allow you to feel like you aren’t running in the middle of a very busy metropolitan city.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll organization also did a great job with the course amenities. To my knowledge there were two water stops on the course, and with it being an out and back made for a total of four during the 3.1 miles. So there was no shortage of refreshments if a runner needed them. Since this was a Rock ‘n’ Roll course they also had bands playing along the way. A Scottish themed band (even with bagpipes and kilts) was playing at the beginning of the course and around the 1.25 mile mark a DJ was set up. So you could enjoy some great sounds to distract you from the miles that lay ahead.

The finish of this course is always fun. As I said, the majority of this traditional 5K Philly course is flat. However right before the 3 mile mark (probably at 2.9 miles) there is a hill you have to climb to get to the finish. Not a big hill, but a bit steep. What makes it fun is that after running a primarily flat course this becomes the challenging part. And while you may feel challenged and want to slow down, this is also when you start seeing course spectators. The last .2 miles of this course is lined with hundreds of screaming people driving you home to the finish line. So even if you wanted to slow down you get a perfectly timed shot of adrenaline to push you to the finish line.

If you’ve never ran in Philadelphia, I really hope you give it a try. This city comes out for races like no other city I have experienced. We love our running community and support those who go the distance. I would recommend this race to anyone as it was flat, spacious and filled with fun.

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(2016)
"Broad Street Run #3"
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The 2016 Broad Street Run was a unique experience to say the least. It rained, then rained some more and finally rained even more. The rain began heavily at the start line and continued through the majority of the race. I believed between mile 8 – 9 it slowed down, but sure enough picked back up heading to the finish line. The 2016 Broad Street Run will forever be a unique bond shared by the runners who were on that course that day. Even though it rained, it did not stop from it being a successful race.

The Expo
The Broad Street Run expo is as good as an expo as you will find. It is held the Friday and Saturday of the race weekend. Hundreds of vendors come out to show off their gear and allow runners to try before they buy. You can also pick up official race gear as well. The bib pick up portion was relatively smooth as usual. As long as you knew your bib number you could walk up and get your bib with ease. And if you didn’t have the number there was a board for you to look it up. Once you got your bib you went and picked up your race bag and finally your race t-shirt. The bag was a just a clear draw string bag. Not much to write home about. However Broad Street no longer allows backpacks in the finish area, only clear bags, so this is probably why they went so basic. I also felt the official race shirt was pretty basic this year. I have a sneaking suspicion this is a result of the organizers to upsell runners the tech upgrade or nicer shirts from their official store, but can’t confirm.

The Course
The BSR course may be one of the best I have ever run. I have written about it many times before so I will keep it simple (mainly because it never changes year after year). It is a 10 mile straight shot down Broad Street starting in North Philadelphia and ending at the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia. Along the 10 miles you pass by Temple University, the large skyscrapers that make up center city, the famous Row Homes from the Rocky movies in South Philly and finally the stadiums where the Eagles, Phillies and Flyers play. There is so much to see just on this 10 mile course. With 40,000 people the course does tend to get a bit crowded (especially at the starting line) but within a few miles it clears up.

Every year Philadelphia comes out for this race. Most years the majority of the course is filled with spectators cheering along side everyone. If there are 40,000 runners on the course, there are probably another 5-10,000 spectators covering the sidewalks and cheering everyone on. Unfortunately due to the rain the course was a little scaled down from most years. Not as many spectators at their normal spots. But for the spectators that did show up, I say a huge THANK YOU!

My Concerns:
As a now three time Broad Street runner the newness of the race is wearing off. As a result I no longer see things through rose colored glasses. Those issues before I overlooked are now becoming annoyances. However there are only two areas I feel this way: the start and finish line. I completely understand that logistics of a 40,000 person race must be a nightmare. So to do it with little to no issues aren’t easy. However things can still be changed. As far as the starting line goes, I think people need to understand an 8:00 start time is for the elites. This is not the start time for everyone. In 2015 I was in the last corral, in 2016 I was in the second to last corral. In both years I didn’t cross the start line until at least 45 minutes after the race started. They should give runners an estimate on when their corral would be crossing the start line. With 7 corrals you will be standing around in a jam packed area for a while.

The finish line is also an issue. Broad Street is 4 lanes wide for the majority of the course. Giving 40,000 runners plenty of room to move. Unfortunately the finish area ends at the Navy Yard which becomes 2 lanes only. As a result you are left standing around for 20 minutes trying to herd through the finish line to get to your spectators. You finish the race and instead of just getting your medal and walking away, you are forced to be shoulder to shoulder with many other runners waiting to end. A solution to this would be to move the finish line up 1 more mile to the local sports stadiums. There is tons of room with parking lots to move around once you finish. I realize the logistics for something like this would be difficult to manage, but it would not be impossible.

Overall Experience:
Regardless of the two issues I listed above, I still rave about Broad Street to everyone that will listen. It is the quintessential Philadelphia race. If you have ever wanted to run a Philly race (whether you are local or not) the BSR is the one race you MUST run. Having said that as a 3 time BSR finisher I am not a lock to run in 2017. I love the race and still may spectate it. But the start and finish issues make me questionable to run again. However I will continue to support anyone who chooses BSR as a race they want to sign up for, because it is a bucket list race for sure.

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(2016)
"My First Buffalo Marathon"
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Memorial Weekend 2016 was the Buffalo Marathon (as well as Half and 5K). For me it was my first time not only running the streets of Buffalo, but being in the city itself. Overall I enjoyed my time in the city and the 26.2 miles I was able to run on their streets.

Pre-Race:

The pre-race logistics went very smoothly. The Buffalo Marathon did a great job sending emails on a regular basis to keep runners updated on everything from the expo, course conditions, local area surroundings and even the unexpected heat on the day of the race. For someone who is not very familiar with the Buffalo area this was nice to have to feel more comfortable on race day.

They also did a great job with their expo. The layout was smooth with plenty of vendors available to pick up last minute supplies. I personally purchased a few Clif shot blocks at one of the booths since I had used my last ones at my last race. There were also booths set up for you to try out some of the latest running/ fitness equipment. I wish I had tried out the elliptical that allowed the user to feel as if you were running, that looked cool!

Bib pick up was very smooth. As long as you knew your bib number you could walk up and get your swag bag and leave. The bag even had the shirt in it ready to go. Most expos I go to have bib pick up and race shirt at different tables. Not that this is an inconvenience, but it was nice of the race to make this a one stop shop.

Race Course:

The Buffalo Marathon advertises the following on their website: “Flat and fast with one of the highest Boston qualifying percentages in the country”. While I have never (and probably will never) know what it feels like to qualify for Boston, I can see why they advertise this. To my knowledge I do not recall a major hill during the course. There were slight inclines, but no hill I can think of. And the slight inclines that started the course, were the slight inclines going the opposite direction during the middle and also end of the course. So there were times on the course where the slope helped you pick up speed and make up lost time.

Being a runner in Philadelphia I am spoiled by spectators. When you run a race in Philly you feel like you are in the middle of a sports parade. Rarely on a Philly course will you not be surrounded by cheering spectators. This was not the case for Buffalo. There were parts of the course where spectators were out in strong numbers. However it felt like there were times where it was just the runners on the road and that was it. It got even more lonely when the marathon and half marathon split up and it was like I was running on a small Tuesday night group run instead of a city wide marathon. This is not a negative towards the course, if I didn’t run in such a large city like Philadelphia I probably wouldn’t think twice about this. But because I do it is something I noticed. Regardless I enjoyed every inch of the 26.2 mile course.

On the flip side, since Buffalo is a smaller city compared to Philadelphia there were times where I felt like I was running through a traditional suburb. You know the kind, houses and trees lining the streets with no skyscrapers to be seen for miles. That was really cool because it felt like a local neighborhood run. Residents had sprinklers turned towards the street to cool down runners as well as makeshift water stations set up. It gave it a very hometown feel that not many Philadelphia runs can compete with.

Miscellaneous:

If I had a chance to sit down with the race director I would love to talk to them about one thing to improve on. And this is just something that’s personal to me. I would love to see them be more active on social media. It’s no doubt runners love being social about their activity and the Buffalo Marathon should capitalize on this. As of this writing, the latest tweet from them is from May 6th (25 days ago). As I was scanning twitter I kept seeing re-tweets from another race that I follow that was held the same day as Buffalo. It was cool seeing the experience from the eyes of all those who ran that race. On the flip side, the Buffalo Marathon twitter page stayed silent. One of the most fun things I enjoy about a big race is getting to interact with the fellow runners and see the race from their point of view. It would be nice to see Buffalo get more social in 2017.

Overall:

I thoroughly enjoyed this race and am happy I ran it. It allowed me to explore a city I have never been to before in a way I normally wouldn’t have. Everything was run smoothly and there were no issues to report. If you are looking for a full marathon to put on your list I would highly recommend this one.

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(2016)
"My 3rd Hot Chocolate 15K"
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The Hot Chocolate 15K is the only Philadelphia race that I can say I have run every year since its existence. Of course, it has only been in existence since 2014, but hey, I've run em all. And I can say they keep getting better year after year. 2016 was the first year I ran this race on behalf of BibRave and my first race in 2016 as a BibRave Pro.

Race Expo:

The Hot Chocolate 15K does host a fun expo. For most races below the half marathon mark the expo's aren't too much to write home about. Those races will allow for a pre race packet pick up, but they are no expo. The Hot Chocolate run does set up an expo however. This year they had about 10+ vendors set up and had plenty of stands available to buy gear. Personally for me I don't really buy much at an expo or shop around much. That's just who I am as a person, even outside of running I am not much of a shopper. But if you are looking to pick up gear, there is plenty to choose from at the expo.

Another thing I enjoy about the Hot Chocolate run expo is how they handle the bib pick up process. Most runs you have your bib number printed directly to the bib. As a result you have to get into the specific line with your bib. However with the hot chocolate run they print out your information and attach it to the bib. As a result it doesn't matter what line you get in, because anyone can print your information out. It makes the process that much quicker. So for me, I got into the expo, picked up the bib and my race bag, got my chocolate covered marshmallow (yes they had those as giveaways) and went along my way.

I will say this about the expo to the race organizers: please extend the race one more hour. A cut off time of 6:00 is difficult because getting to the city from the suburbs on a Friday after work is very difficult. I got to the expo at 5:55 and that was with leaving work early. I will say that it is nice that the organizers will mail you your bib if you can't make it to the expo. But some of us enjoy the expo and would rather pick it up versus getting it mailed.

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The Course:

I've written plenty of reviews of races in center city Philadelphia. There are very few places to hold a race in Philly. As a result the course for most Philly races are the same. Primarily flat and passing along a lot of nice views. You have the back of the Art Museum off the water, the skyscrapers that make up the Philly skyline and you run right along one of the biggest highways Philly has, I-76. If you're familiar with Philly all of this makes sense to you. If you're not familiar it's even more reason for you to come here and run.

The one thing that made the 2016 course unique was the rain. Obviously the race organizers couldn't do anything about this, but it did make for an interesting run to say the least. It poured so bad that I felt like I was getting hypothermia post race. But I guess that's what keeps things fun.

Race Swag:

The Hot Chocolate Runs are not without their swag. And plenty of it. First off, every runner gets a running jacket. For me it was my 3rd jacket. Yes that's right, they have been giving out a race jacket instead of shirt every year. And this year was by far the best jacket yet. It fits comfortably and the material is high quality. I really like that they do this because I wear my jacket from last year all the time. Whereas I probably wouldn't wear a race shirt that often. And you get the jacket whether you run the 15K or the 5K.

In 2015 they introduced a medal for the 15K. I was surprised they didn't do this in 2014, but was happy to learn they changed that in 2015. And 2016 was no different. If you ran the 15K than you received a chocolate bar shaped medal. Sadly this year they ran out of medals and not everyone got one. The race did address this and will make sure everyone gets a medal. Something for them to look into for 2017.

The swag doesn't stop there though. After all this is the "Hot Chocolate Run". After the race every finisher gets a cup of hot chocolate as well as a plastic mug with melted chocolate. Along with the chocolate you are given a banana, marshmallow and pretzels to dip into your chocolate. Yes you read that paragraph correctly. You are pumped full of chocolate after the run! This is reason enough to sign up.

Overall Impression:

There's a reason I am a 3 time runner of this race. It's a really fun race. In fact it's such a welcoming race that my fiance, a few of her family members and a few of my family members all ran in the race. So overall I would highly recommend this race.

However having said that there are a few areas I would like the race organizers to take note of. First off, I had a mishap with my race jacket. When I got home and unopened my race jacket I noticed it said "Dallas Finisher" on it (see below). I understand things can happen, so it isn't the end of the world. But at the same time it's important to be aware that a Philly runner got a Dallas Finisher jacket. Hopefully it's something they can pay attention to.

Also it would be important for the organizers to pay a little more attention to the local area. I am aware the organization that runs this is a national one. So they probably do not know the intricacies of Philadelphia. However if they did do a little research they would no we do not have a monorail as they put in one of their Facebook posts. Again this isn't a big deal and do not want to come off as knit picking. Just a little constructive criticism for the organizers to be aware of.

Regardless of these little mishaps the Hot Chocolate run should definitely go on your bucket list. It's one of the most fun races I run every year and is a very memorable time.

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