Latest reviews by Mark Davidhizar

(2018)
"A new 10k has been added"
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The Santa Stroll has been going on for a few years. I last ran it in 2015 when it was still only a 5k race. This was the first year of the event having a 10k race. The race is held in Downtown Elkhart, IN. The race supports Santa’s Pantry which is a pay it forward organization that operates year round.
Registration was done online or by mail. You could register early for $25. There was also a family rate that you could take advantage of as well. When you registered, you could chose between receiving a Santa suit or a race shirt. I went with the race shirt since I still had the Santa suit from 2015 and I knew I would not be running in the suit. Packet pickup was available in downtown Elkhart the night before or on race day.
The course, just like every race held in Elkhart, seems to change every year. The city can be difficult to work with when planning a race route, and then that’s still not sure thing that the course will work out on race day. More on that later.
The race starts in front of Elks Lodge in town and quickly makes its way to the towns bike paths and to the north side of town. A significant issue to the mornings race was the snow that started early in the morning and throughout the race. This created a slippery course that was out of the race directors hands. Not much she could do about it. Another issue, due to the snow, was that Welfield Gardens, which the course was supposed to run through, decided about 5 minutes before the race started that runners would not be allowed to run through due to the snow. This probably cut out about half a mile off the course.
Lastly, someone from the public, decided to remove, destroy, or hide some of the race signs from the course. This caused a lot of confusion from the runners especially on the second half of the race. Unfortunately, the volunteers didn’t seem to know the course at all. When all was said and done, i ran 5 miles. Before all the confusion, I was in 5th Place overall. No one passed me, but I think I ended up in 8th. Guessing a couple runners ran less than I did.
One of the best things about this race was the post race breakfast. All the food was donated to the race, and there was a very wide spread of delicious foods.
Overall, there were a lot of factors that were out of the race directors hands. I look forward to coming back in 2018. It is a fun race and really i didn’t hear people complaining about the issues with the course.

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(2018)
"Great Course, Great Support, Great Volunteers"
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The Columbus Hot Chocolate 15k was held on Sunday, November 18, 2018 in down town Columbus with the start/finish lines in the arena district. Weather was perfect with starting temps in the mid 30s with very little wind.

Expo

The expo was open for 2 days, Friday afternoon and all day on Saturday at the down town convention center. Parking was easy to find across the street and only cost $1 for each half an hour you were parked.
This was a smaller race expo than what you would find at major races. But it was easy to get your bib and race jacket. There were several vendors present, but seemed to only be a couple that were running related. There is an option to get your race packet mailed to you for a fee. For me, it might be worth paying the fee next year so I don’t use as much gas on the weekend.
As always, there were some chocolate treats for those at the expo to try. Call it an early sample of what you will receive following the race.

Swag

At the expo, participants picked up their race jacket. Every year, on social media, people get the opportunity to vote on the color jackets that runners want to see in the coming races. This years was black for men and a dark purple for women. Each year runners get a jacket, but the style changes. One year it was a thick/heavy hoodie, last year it was thick but no hood. This year it was a lighter weight hoodie. I appreciate the different style from year to year. The race also offered all participants free race photos which were up on the website later integrated afternoon.
Race Day

The Hot Chocolate Races have a 15k and 5k option. Both races start at 7:30 and run together for the first mile before splitting. This was a different course than what I ran in 2016.

There is Gear check located right by the starting line. I did not use it this year because I was actually parked close to the finish line. I had a heat sheet with me, so I left all my warm clothes in the car for me to put on quickly following the race.
Prior to the start of the race, a recipient of Make A Wish spoke about her experience with the organization. The race donates proceeds to Make a Wish. This was followed by the national anthem and then the start.

The course was covered very well by volunteers and police. There were officers at every intersection on the course. I made sure to thank every single one of them that I passed. They seemed very appreciative and even gave me words of encouragement in return.

The course had some rolling hills early but nothing too bad. It was a great course with running through some nice neighborhoods and around some of the towns parks and through downtown .

The course had 4 aid stations with water, Nuun, and Chocolate items. All the aid stations were very well maned with volunteers eager to help or to encourage runners.

The finish was just outside of the downtown hockey arena. It was a nice down hill for the last quarter mile or so.

Following the finish, those who did the 15k were given a bottle of water and their finishers medal. Each medal is city specific. The Columbus medal and a picture of the city skyline.

After the race you are able to go get your post race food. Of course it was hot chocolate and fondue. The post race party had a DJ playing music and plenty of photo ops. A couple of them had race volunteers ready to take your phone to take photos for you.

Overall, Columbus is my favorite Hot Chocolate race that I have run. It’s smaller than Chicago and I feel like they do a great job keeping runners safe and the volunteers were awesome. I would definitely recommend this race to anyone.

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(2018)
"Hilly but beautiful Half Marathon"
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This was my first time running the Indy Half Marathon at Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park. The race is held in Lawrence, IN which is a suburb of Indianapolis. Up until a couple of years ago, this was a marathon, half marathon, and 5k race. At the time this race began, it was one of only a few marathons in the state and was the only one in Indianapolis. Then a couple years ago, the original race comity decided to end the event.

However, the race management of the Monumental Marathon brought it back. They did eliminate the full marathon and keep the half and 5k going. With the new management taking over, they then created what is now known as the Indython. If you run any distance at the two races, you will get a third medal after the Monumental Marathon. As I have said, this is the first year that Tina and I have run this race, thus the first time that we have taken part in the Indython.

We headed down to Indianapolis the night before to the northeast side of town. Packet pickup was easy to find and right by the race course. There were just a handful of vendors at the expo and you were able to get your bib number and shirt and get out fast as you would like. There was some pretty nice race merchandise for sale as well. Packet pick-up went from 10:00am-8:00pm with no option for race day pick-up.
On race day, the race started at 8:30am. Most fall weekends, this probably not that bad, but this was a very warm day with temps in the 70s to start the race with high humidity. You were encouraged to get to the race at least by 7:30 to ensure partking across the street from the start/finish line. There was ample parking but I can understand their concern. While you are waiting, they did have camp fires going in the field to keep warm. I am sure this was more for the expectations that it would be a cooler morning.
The race started promptly at 8:30AM. The course starts outside of Fort Ben State Park for the first mile before entering the park. The first mile starts on the nice down hill. The second mile include roads and bike paths of the park before exiting on the bike path to local roads that boarder the park. Mile 3 was the start of the hills which continued through mile 4. Miles 3-7 were on the boarder of the park along rolling hills.
After mile 7, the course goes back into the park with a lot of the second half of the course was on bike paths. once again the bigger hills come back up and they were killers and continues up until about mile 11. At mile 11, you leave the state park again and start running the perimeter of the park to the finish. The finish was lined with spectators and besides at the start and around mile 4, this was the only place that had spectators because the state park was closed to the public for the race.
The course was lined with great volunteers at the aid station and also course marshals directing you where to go. The volunteers at the aid stations were primarily from the Indiana National Guard. They were a great support out on the course on a hot day. The aid stations were at miles 2, 4, 5.5, 7, 8.5, 10, 11, and 12.
The swag for this race was pretty on point. The shirt was a quarter zip jacket with the logo on the left side of the chest. The finishers medals were very nice as well. Not the largest medals but they were very colorful with a clear logo of the race on the front. After you cross the finish line, you are of course given your medal as well as a bottle of water, Clif Bar, banana, and a bag of chips. There is also a post race cookout. You could get a hamburger, bratwurst, or piece of pizza. There were also cookies and some other side items.
This is a tough half marathon, probably the toughest half that I have ever ran. The course had 351 ft of elevation gain which is just a little less than the total I ran in the marathon a week prior. With that being said, it was a beautiful course and would have been even better had the leaves started to change color (looks like that will happen later than usual this year). I got to see a state park that I had never been to before (too bad there is no camping). And it was a real challenge with the weather and the hills. If you are not looking for a PR and just want a challenging course, give this race a try

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(2018)
"Some changes have been made (good and bad)"
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I first ran the Fort4Fitness Marathon in its inaugural year in 2016. For a first year marathon (not a first year event however) it was a very well run race and thought that I would probably return at some point. It was not in my original plans to run it in 2018, but when a 24 hour deal came up to register for $26.20, I thought it would be worth doing it, even if it were just a training run.

To save even more money, Tina and I decided not to get a hotel room and just drive there race day. It works out nice because if you live over 40 miles away from Fort Wayne, IN, you can get race day packet pickup. While I did miss out on the expo, it was nice to sleep in my own bed. It all sounded like a great idea until the day of, when having to wake up at 3:30 for a 6:30 race.

Anyways, we arrived in Fort Wayne at around 5:30. I didn’t realize that the gates for packet pickup and gear check did not open until 6:00, so we waited in the car for a little bit. The race day packet pick up was quick but felt very rushed to get my bib on, gear ready, bag checked, and to the starting line on time. I would like to see the gear check and packet pickup open a half an hour earlier.

The start of the race was right outside the Fort Wayne Tin Caps minor league baseball stadium. At this time of year, at 6:30 in the morning, it is still dark. While there are street lights on most of the course, I would not say that the streets are well lit. Combine that with some small pot holes on the roads, it can be a little dangerous. This was especially noticeable miles 5 through 7 when you were on a bike path and there were no street lights. The sun was just barely coming up at that time, but it was still impossible to see any holes. I think for this reason, the race start time should be pushed back a half an hour.
This year, they also made a course change for the marathon. In the past 2 years, it has been a course of four loops. It followed the 4 mile course, the 10k course, the half marathon course, and another loop to make up the distance. This year, it followed the half marathon course twice. People complained about the old course because you passed the stadium where you finished 3 times before actually finishing. I guess people allow this to mess with their minds or something. I preferred the old course. The tougher hills are only on the half course, so we had to run those twice. Not to mention the log stretch of no turns from the start of the race until mile 4 and then again mile 13 to mile 17. Yuck.

What makes this race really good though are the communities that you run through especially from miles 8-12 and then again miles 21-25. They come out and decorate their neighborhoods and really support the runners. Great to see community involvement.

Overall it is a nice course, I really don’t have much to complain about in that area. Just wish the race started later in the morning so that it would be easier to see. We got lucky on the weather and it was in the low 50s at the start. Maybe that is part of the fear of the later start that the weather will get too warm.

The swag was alright. A little disappointment in the shirt. It was a poly cotton blend shirt. Just give me the tech shirt. Also, scale down the design on the shirt a little. It was just too much. Not my favorite shirt, but I will get some use out of it. The medal had the same design as the shirt. I would like for the actual race name to be more prominent so that I can easily tell what race it was from. Also, I am not one to complain about race medals and their sizes, but if you are giving out medals for all races involved, the sizes should be different and it should be easy to tell the difference between each medal. There was no size difference between my medal and my wife’s half marathon medal. The only difference is, in small letters, hers says half marathon and mine says marathon.
Overall, for the $26.20 I paid for this race, it was well worth it for a training run. It can be a fast course if the weather is right. Looking at the results, I don’t think that there were many Boston qualifiers at this race, but this could have a lot to do with the changes to the standards just a couple of days before the race. There were also only 175 finishers in the marathon.

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(2018)
"Beautiful course along Lake Michigan "
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Last weekend, Tina and I made the trip up to Holland, MI for the 5th annual Holland Haven Marathon. This was our first time running this race, and first time ever visiting Holland.  As many times as I have been in the Holland area, I always just seem to drive on by.  We sent 2 nights in Holland, arriving on Friday and leaving after the marathon on Sunday.  For it being only 2 hours from home, we have been missing quiet a bit.  Its a small town but has a lot to offer.  There are many shops in down town along with restaurants and bars.   Starting in early spring and ending in the fall, every Saturday there is a farmers market with many vendors. Not far outside of town is the Lake Michigan shore and Holland State Park.  If you like in the Midwest and looking for a great place to visit along Lake Michigan, Holland is a great option.  If you come, bring your bike.  There are bike paths all over the place.
The race was held on Sunday, September 9th, just a day before the start of Boston Marathon registration.  So really, this is one of your last chances to run a BQ before registration opens up.  You could gamble and try to find a marathon the following weekend, but it is a possibility that Boston could be filled by then.  From what I heard, registrations were the largest of any year the race has been held.
Packet pickup was located at the down town Marriot Hotel.  It was quick and easy.  No expo.  Just go in, give them your bib number, get your bib and shirt, and you are done. less than 5 minutes and were back to your hotel room.
The course starts outside of Grand Haven at a local Elementary School and runs along the shores of Lake Michigan to Holland.  While I say that it runs along the shore, it does get pretty close, but you really do not get very many views of the lake from the course.  There are houses and tress on both sides of the course which blocks your view of the lake.  While you don't get a view of the lake from the course, consider it a blessing because there is some blockage from the wind if it were to be strong. The whole course, except for the last half mile, was run on a bike path.  Rolling hills are a common theme for the first half of the course with a mostly flat course the second half. Some miles early on were tougher than others.  Miles 7-9 were probably the toughest on the course but really still no where near as bad as in other courses that I have ran on.

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