Latest reviews by Chadd Balbi

(2016)
"The Run That Loves You Back"
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The 2016 Love Run Half Marathon has come and gone, and what an exciting blur it was! If you're not familiar with the Love Run (and at this point I have to imagine you are) it is the premier spring Half Marathon for Philadelphia. And premier is the perfect way to describe this race.

The race is organized by CGI Racing who also runs the United Half Marathon at Rutgers University and New Jersey State Triathlon. CGI knows what they are doing when it comes to organizing a race. With 10,000 runners (yes they get into the 5 digit number for this race) logistics can get messy. However the Love Run couldn't have been run any smoother.

Swag

Competitor Magazine named Love Run as their "Best Race Swag" in the 2015 Best of Competitor competition. And this is for a good reason. What race do you know that gives away professional grade race photo's for free? Yes, free! Along with free race photos every runner walked away with a free coffee mug. Each runner received a tech t-shirt, large finisher medal and an awesome post race party with free beer! You also can customize your bib and put your name, a message or nickname on it. So you can say the Love Run has earned their Best Race Swag award.

Expo

Unfortunately the weather leading up to the run wasn't that great. We got snow the day before. Yes, snow in April! As a result it was easy for the expo to be ruined. However with this awful weather the expo still was a huge success. You walked into a large tented area and looked up your bib number on one of their computers. Once your bib number was identified you walked to the corresponding line and picked up your bib and race bag. Then you entered the expo and you could get your race shirt and mug. If you did just the basics you were in and out in less than 5 minutes.

But with so many vendors there, why would you want to do just the basics, what fun is that? Even though the expo was tented off, there were still dozens of vendors set up to shop at. You could pick up running clothes, shoes, and so many different accessories. You could have easily spent most your afternoon at the expo shopping. There were also plenty of backdrops set up to snap a few pics. When you were done with the expo? You could head into Xfinity live and grab a free beer with a tag on your bib. The weather had a great chance of ruining the expo. However the race organizers would not allow it.

The Course

While the weather for the expo was pretty bad, the weather on race day ended up being great. It was a bit chilly out, but nothing that was too unbearable. As a result the course was great. The race ran right through some of the busiest parts of center city Philadelphia. And the race organizers did a great job making sure the course was blocked off properly.

I will do my best to to explain the course to locals. It began at the art museum, ran down Ben Franklin Parkway, east down arch street, back west down market street, then headed back up the Ben Franklin Parkway, up MLK drive, through West Fairmount Park, back down MLK drive and finally finishing back at the art museum.

For the most part the course was your standard half marathon route for Philly races. However that trip into West Fairmount Park made any feelings of success fade very quick. Hills, hills and more hills. It started with one large hill. Then flattened out, but quickly introduced a new hill. While the majority of the course was flat, miles 6-8 were a hilly battle.

Overall Experience

There really is only one way to describe the overall experience of the Love Run. And that is that they have earned every part of being known as Philadelphia's Premier Spring Half Marathon. If you are looking for a Philadelphia area Half Marathon, this is a must to put on your list. 10,000 runners can't be wrong.

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(2016)
"My 2nd BoMF 5 Miler"
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There are a handful of races that I always run every year. And the Back on My Feet 5 Miler is one of them. You may have heard of Back on My Feet before. They are an organization that helps rehabilitate the homeless through running. What they are doing is awesome, so if me running this race supports them than I am all for it. At the same time the race has a very strong social media presence. I don't know why this matters to me, but I am learning that when a race is active on social media than I am that much more inclined to run it. I think it's because it allows me to connect with other runners. Whatever it may be, it matters to me.

The 2016 BoMF 5 Miler lived up to expectations just as much as 2015 did. The race itself is run on the same main course that most Philly races are run. So it is hard to describe a course that I have run hundreds of times before. However there is one part of this standard Philly course that can differ from race to race. And it's a BIG difference. I refer to it is as the Sweet Briar Hill. I think it got an unofficial name last year. But if you run in Philly you know the hill I'm talking about. Not every race runs up this hill. So if you find yourself at one of those races, consider yourself lucky. I don't know the specific elevation of this hill, but it's steep as hell. I try and pride myself in running up the whole thing. At the BoMF 5 Miler I think I ran 80% of it. So I was happy I got that far for only my second race of the year.

Overall the race was enjoyable. There was that tough hill, but I ended at a time that was 2 minutes faster than my previous months 5 mile race and only 2 minutes off my 5 Mile PR. The extra curriculars at the race were even more fun in 2016. BoMF does a really good job at making the event like a party. They had a food truck, the local soccer team had games set up and other vendors had stands as well. So if you were a spectator or wanted to hang out post race, there was plenty to do.

Along with all of this, the race is very affordable. The initial cost to run is $25 and even up until the week of the race it is only $35. The cost is significantly less than a lot of 5K's in the area. So it goes without saying that if you run in the Philly area, you gotta put this race on your list (and again, and again, and again.....)

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(2016)
"My 2nd Frostbite 5 Miler"
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This was the 2nd time I ran this race. It is a local 5 Miler that I never miss out on, quite frankly because it is a steal. Early registration for this race is only $25. Most 5K's in the area aren't that cheap. So as a result I try and put this race on my calendar every year. Also it forces me to run outside during the cold beyond the 5K distance so I use it as the kick-start to my year.

Thankfully this year the name "Frostbite" wasn't appropriate. Last year the race was so cold I had sweat frozen to my beard at the end. In 2016 this was (thankfully) not the case. We had unseasonably high weather in the Philly area this weekend. It got as high as 60 degrees on the day of the race. For my first race of 2016 I felt like the weather gods were looking after me and I was very thankful. Now onto the race......

This race offers a pre race bib pick up which I really enjoy. Most smaller races require you pick up your bib the day of the race. I don't mind this, but if given the choice I would rather pick it up before hand. Primarily because this allows me to not feel rushed on race day morning. I can get myself prepared at home and just show up and get going. So I do like the option of a bib pick up.

The race itself had roughly over 1,000 finishers. So it was a relatively large field. Most of the course was on private streets and through neighborhoods. But it never felt like the course got crowded. At the start it was a bit crowded, but once the runners began it became quite spacious. They had plenty of volunteers along the course so you never got off track and cars were kept at bay. Since we did run through some neighborhoods there were a good amount of cars trying to use the course as the normal road it was. However the volunteers kept this from happening so that was never an issue.

The course also had it's fair share of hills as well. I enjoyed it because there was one larger down hill to begin the race. As a result I was able to get a much faster first mile than I am used to. However once that hill was over the rest of the course went up and down pretty regularly. This is good to know if you enjoy more of flat course. This might not be the course for you, but what fun is that?

The one part of the course I was surprised by was the trail we had to run through. It was about a mile long, from the 3.5 to the 4.5 mile mark. I can't recall if this was the same course from last year or if they changed it in 2016, but I do not remember this part from 2015. It wasn't bad by any means, except for the fact that I have to clean my good running shoes now. I think what made it worse was since it was so unseasonably warm out the trail turned to mud. So there were times the mud was so bad you had to run off the course and into the cornfield. This did not go so well for my ankles. I still will never understand trail running. It wasn't bad by any means, just different.

The post race was a lot of fun as well. Just like last year there was plenty of food and snacks to be had. Not your traditional post race food like apples and bananas either. They had those, but also hot dogs, chili and a bunch of other snacks. Since the race is held at a local high school they also had a post race party in the gym with a DJ and other activities. Along with all this and the long sleeve tech tee shirt every runner gets, the $25 early registration is a steal. At that amount of money I would highly recommend this race.

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(2015)
"The Lemon Run"
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The Lemon Run 5K is a run hosted by Alex's Lemonade Stand in Philadelphia. So while it is another race to help you with your fitness goals, it is also a great run to support an even better cause. The run is held at the same area as the "Please Touch Museum" in Philadelphia. It is away from center city (the very busy part of the city) and about 20 minutes north west. The area hosts an assortment of runs throughout the year from 5K's to Half Marathons. So the course is very runner friendly and a popular course for the city. And since it is away from the busy part of the city it is a great area to hold a large run.

Not only is the lemon run course friendly it is also a very family friendly run. This was the first race I did with my family so unlike most races where I cross the finish line and leave, for this race I stayed until everyone in my party finished. My parents decided they did not want to run the race and instead would walk it. As a result I ended up staying at the finish line for about an hour and fifteen minutes. So I got to see a lot of different people cross the finish line. And what I noticed is this race attracted a lot of families who wanted to walk the course. Most races usually have a 1 or 2 mile walk option along with the 5K. However the Lemon Run embraced people who wanted to walk the whole 3.1 mile course. And those walkers did not appear intimidated by those who wanted to run the race. Overall it was a very inclusive race for everyone participating.

Along with this the race management group did a great job with all their vendors and racers. Since you could sign up to run for charity they had a large amount of group runners. Runners running for a specific cause or person impacted by childhood cancer. Not only did they have these groups but they provided them with tents and pre-race tables for their groups to gather around before the race. Along with this they had vendors out there giving away free items. So it was like a race expo was taking place during a 5K.

What I was most impressed about with this race was that everyone who crossed the finish line was able to get a medal. I rarely see 5K races that will give these out. Not only did this race give you a medal, but it was better than some that I have gotten after a half marathon.

This is a 5K I would highly recommend. It was for a great cause, you get a cool post race medal and overall was a great time.

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(2015)
"North Wales Turkey Trot"
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This year was the first time for the North Wales 5K/ 8K Turkey Trot and I signed up for the 8K option. The course was a course I was very familiar with because I used it to train for a marathon this year. However the course I ran was the trail that paralleled to the road. In this race we ran on the actual road itself. It's a four lane road so there was plenty of room to run without feeling crowded. The course was an out and back with turnaround points for both the 5K and 8K. However the 8K had a timing mat at the turnaround whereas the 5K did not.

The race did give a bib pick up option prior to the race day however I picked mine up on race day morning. I prefer picking up my bib prior to the race however I was not aware this was an option. One recommendation I would give the race management group is to make this more clear. Re-reading the confirmation email I got after I registered I did not see anywhere that said they offer a pre race bib pick up.

The cost of the race was the same for the 5K and the 8K. I still haven't developed a feeling about this. I thought it made more sense to sign up for the 8K because you will get more race for your money. However if I wasn't ready for an 8K and just wanted to run the 5K I would want it to be a little cheaper. It cost me $50 to run this race which I felt wasn't too bad for an 8K, however I would never pay that for a 5K. (Note: I signed up late, the cost of the run was as low as $30 if you signed up back in August).

Since I signed up so late I also did not get a t-shirt for this race. I found that interesting because while most races advertise that they may run out of t-shirts if you sign up late I have never actually experienced that. The races I have run before clearly had enough stock to satisfy all runners, even those who registered on the day of the event. I can't be upset because this was clearly mentioned but it would have been nice of them to order enough for their expected amount of runners.

Overall I thought they did a good job organizing this race. They had a race party set up for after the race and there was enough room to move around freely while still hosting a large amount of runners. At the price I paid I would not recommend the 5K for this race (way too much money for a 5K) but I would happily recommend the 8K option.

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