Latest reviews by Mark Davidhizar

(2018)
"Shortened race "
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
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This was a planned 15k race but due to a incoming snow storm, the race was shortened to a 5k race. This was announced the day before on social media, emails, and at the expo. There was no way that anyone registered to run did not get the message.
The expo was help at the Indianapolis Convention Center which is easy to get to. Due to a volleyball tournament going on in the convention center, parking was not as easy to find but after parking a couple blocks away, it wasn’t too bad. The expo was fairly small and at the time was somewhat dead. Not many people were there yet so getting my packet was quick and easy. There were a few vendors present as well as a couple races.
Race location was at American Legion Park. Parking was easy as you could either park on the street or in a garage a couple blocks away. I parked on the street right by the park. 3 hours of parking only cost me $2.75. A lot cheaper than other cities.
The race started at 7:15 and it was still dark but the streets were well lit and the streets were also mostly pothole free so it was good. The only issues was the snow that had started so it was getting a little slick. The course was nice at it featured a lot of sites of downtown Indy, especially Monument Circle. There was one aid station on the course that had water and Nuun. I passed it up due to the short race and cold temps.
With the weather being so poor, the post race party was pretty dead compared to other cities that I have been to.  I think most everyone was ready to get home before the roads became worse after the race.  But every runner who came out, got their hot chocolate and fondue.
One of the nice things that the Hot Chocolate Race has done for those who were registered for this years race is offer everyone a 20% discount for next years race due to the disappointment of the 15k race being shortened to a 5K. Not something that they had to do (remember, we all sign those forms saying that if a race is shortened or canceled there would be no refund) but its nice they have made the offer to get everyone to come back in 2019.
The date has already been set for the 2019 Indianapolis Hot Chocolate 15k.  It will once again be in late March.  Right now, registration is already open, so now is the time to sign up for the lowest registration fees.

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(2018)
"Great winter half marathon "
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
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For the second year in a row, I made the 2 hour drive from my home to Chicago for the F3 Half Marathon.  I really like this race because it is tough to find a good race, that is longer than a 5k in the winter.  This race offers a great opportunity to get out to do a longer race when they are just hard to come by and this race is a very well operated race.  If you were not up to running a half marathon, there was also a 5k option as well.  weather for the race this year was fantastic! It was in the mid 40s, light wind, and sunny.
Packet Pickup
To pick up your packet, you had several options in the Chicago area at local running stores.  If you were coming from out of town on race day, you could chose to pick up your packet on race day for an additional charge.  Lucky for me, I have great friends in Chicago who will pick up my packet for me.  Thanks for the help once again Heather.
Race Shirt
This years race shirt was, as I can best describe as a long sleeve t shirt that is a hoodie.  I like the look of it, but overall, I liked last years quarter zip better.  This years shirt was also 63% polyester, 35% cotton.  Its a nice shirt, but I just prefer last years better.
Pre Race
Parking was located right next to Soldier Field.  Price for parking was $20.  Lines to get into the parking garage was never long and was easy to get in quickly. On a really cold race day, the F3 Half Marathon has quiet a nice set up. Runners get to take advantage of the United Club located inside Soldier Field.  Inside was race day packet pickup, gear check, sponsors table, local races, and a place to use a foam roller pre race to get stretched out and ready to race.  There was also plenty of music being played.  About 10 minutes before the races, the announcer stated that it was time for runners to head outside and get into their corrals.the United Club
Race
Runners headed out to the corrals and were expect to line up according to their pace.  Pace signs and pacers were lined up to help runners know where to start.  From what I can tell, most runners were very respectful and lined up where they should.  The National Anthem was played prior to the start and the first wave was sent off with the sound of an air horn.  I am not sure how many waves there were but they were not too far apart.
The course is easy to follow, it is basically an out an back route with a short loop around Soldier Field added at the beginning.  Once you make it around Soldier Field, the rest of the course is on the Lake Front Path and you don't cross a single street after that.  There are a couple of hills on the course when it comes to going over or under local streets.  The only complaint I have about the course was where construction was being done on the Lake Front Path and we had to cross over to another path and went through the mud.  This was out of the race's hands and from what I understand, construction should be completed before the 2019 race.
There were 7 total aid stations, all with water, KRA sports drink and medical.  2 aid stations will have CLIF Shot Bloks (Miles 6 and 8).  Aid stations will be located at Mile 1, 2.5, 3.5, 6, 8, 10.5, and 11.5.  I didn't drink any of the sports drink as I had never had it before but maybe I should have given it a try.  The aid stations were very well staffed with plenty of volunteers.
When you crossed the finish line, a medal was placed around your neck.  Right as you are walking down the finish area, you are able to grab water, KRA energy drink, and granola bars.  I did grab a sports drink to try later since I did not have one during the race.  A sponsor was there handing out reusable bags to give to runners for all their food.  A nice touch especailly since runners had to walk a quarter mile from the finish back to the United Club following the race.
Post Race
Post race, you could go back into the United Club and get warm as well as stretch out.  There was no additional food in the United Club.  There was also a wall that results were projected on so you could check out your finishing time and place.  You could also make your way over to the result table to get a print out of the results.  The United Club was a great place to meet up with friends after the race.  One last thing is that you could get a finishers photo and it would be made into a magnet for free.the free magnet
Overall Thoughts
This is a race that I really enjoy.  Once again, its a great opportunity to get a longer race in during the winter months and the city of Chicago does a great job of keeping the Lake Front Path clear of snow and ice.  While it was warm, There had been recent snow fall and the paths were very clear.  The race always has great swag in the form of shirts and medals.  This is a race that I would recommend to any local Chicago or even Northern Indiana Runners.  As runners were finishing, I heard of runners coming from Central Indiana, so the word is getting out about this race.  This was the ninth running of this event and this year had record numbers of registered runners.

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(2017)
"I love Indy"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
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The 2017 Monumental Marathon was held on November 4, 2017 in Indianapolis. It is held yearly on the first Saturday of November. The race expo is held Thursday from 4pm-7pm and on Friday from 11am-8pm. Some complain that the expo closes too early for those coming from Illinois (especially with the hour difference) but in fairness to the race, the expo hours are posted when you register. There is also no option for race day packet pickup which is becoming more popular with larger marathons. Could you imagine the mess that would create?

Expo

The Expo is held at the Indiana Convention Center. It is a large building right in downtown Indy. There were probably 40-50 vendors at the expo. Pretty good size. There were also guests speakers all throughout the time the expo was open. I didn’t go to listen to any since none really interest me except for one on runner safety but that was on Thursday before I could get there. Picking up your race bib and shirt was quick and easy. There was also the option of getting a friends number as well. Besides the vendors, there was race merchandise for sale. Tina and I did pick up 2016 finishers quarter zips for half off since we did Run last years race. Maybe next year we will purchase the 2017 jackets???

Where to stay

If you are coming to town for this race, get a hotel early and stay downtown. It is more expensive, but you can just park your car and not need to drive until you leave to go home. Everything is within walking distance. Quiet a few hotels are within 5 blocks of the starting line, and the expo is only a block from the starting line.

Where to eat to carbo load

Tina and I always go to Buca Di Bepo in downtown. Once again, only a few minute walk from most downtown hotels. If you plan on going to Buca Di Bepo, get your reservations a made about a week before. It amazes me every year how many people thing they can just walk in and get a table. This year, they were not taking any walk up guests until 9:00pm. The race itself does offer a pasta dinner as well.

Race Day

The full and half marathon start together at 8:00am. The 5k started at 8:35.

The course is discribed on the website as relatively flat with a few small hills. I would say that is an accurate description. The course starts in down town Indy right in front of the capital building, winds it’s way passed Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Field House, then Soldiers and Sailors Monument before heading north of town and eventually coming back to downtown to finish back in front of the capital building. It really is a great course. Some of the other sites were Mass Ave. District, Meridian Street, Butler University, Museum of Art, Broad Ripple, State Fairgrounds, and Fall Creek Parkway.

There were 20 aid stations on the course. Not all aid stations had Gatoraid, so if that’s something you depend on, plan accordingly. There were also 4 aid stations that offered gels.

Post Race

Right after you cross the finish line, you were handed a medal (put around your neck), a beanie with the race logo, a heat sheet, and a bottle of water. Finishers photos were then taken by MarathonFoto (who was also on the course) and then you proceeded to walk through the finish area to get fruit, chips, cookies, and chocolate milk. Some complain that there are not healthier options but you just ran a marathon, indulge a little. Also, I wanted salt after I finished so give me all the chips.

Gear check was located right by the finish line as was the tent where you could go get a free slice of Papa Johns Pizza. An extra slice would cost $2, which doesn’t seem too bad. There was also a live band playing at the finish line.
Overall thoughts

I love this race. There are reasons why we come back to this race every year (5 straight years now) and we will be registering again on 1/1/18 to get the lowest registration price. Next years race will be on November 3. This was also the end of the 4 year medal series which led up to the 10 year anniversary of the race. Apparently they will be starting a new series, which I am cool with. However the medals from the next series will still fit in place of the medals from the previous series. So if you missed a medal from the last series, you can fill it in with next year or the year after. I would prefer a whole new series.

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(2017)
"The Hot Chocolate is worth it"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
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The Chicago Hot Chocolate 15k race was held on October 29th, 2017. Start and Finish line were in a Grant Park. Race temps were cool at 34 degrees with sunny skies and light winds.

Registration

Registration opened up months in advance of the race. Prices for the 15k started at $59 and increased a couple of times until registration closes. The highest registration fee was $79. For the 5k, registration fees start at $34 and goes up to $54. Online registration was easy with no issues, just be careful not to purchase the registration insurance if you don’t want it. Will cost you an extra $10-$12.

After registering, you are sent weekly emails which include a weekly training plan if you need one. Great for anyone running their first 15k and doesn’t have a coach. Also included in the emails were expo information and race day info that you need to know. Also was information on the charity that Hot Chocolate Run supports; Make A Wish.

Expo

The expo was held the two days leading up to the race (Friday October 27 and Saturday October 28) at McCormick Place in Chicago. It’s the same venue as the other major races in Chicago. There was no race day packet pick up. The McCormick Place is a large convention center. Unlike for the Marathon earlier this month, the Hot Chocolate Expo was located right a crossed the street from the parking garage, so it was a much shorter walk to get there. If you use the parking garage, make sure to take your parking ticket with you that you get when you enter. You can get it validated and save yourself $12 and only have to pay $10.

The first thing to do is go pick up your bib. To make the process faster, have your email out with the QR code that was sent earlier in the week to scan. They will get your number quickly for you. Kind of an annoying thing then is that you have to walk all the way through the expo to get to the other side to get your race shirt. I guess this forces anyone who is looking to just get in and out quickly to at least walk through part of the expo.

The expo has I am guessing 30-40 venders selling all kinds of products or representing charities or races. There were a couple of vendors I was interested in but many were the same as I had just seen at the Chicago Marathon Expo so I kind of breezes through the expo a couple of times.

On the way out, there were chocolate goodies and hot chocolate for you to snack on as you were leaving.

Race Day

If you are driving into the city the day of the event, I strongly suggest you reserve a parking spot a couple days before the race through Spot Hero. If you are coming into the city from the south, maybe park at Soldier Field. We chose the Grant Park South parking garage but because of road closures, it was difficult to get there. The advantage to that sparking garage is that it is right beside the park where the start finish line is located.

I struggled a little bit finding where gear check was at but eventually found it closer to the finish line. Might have helped if I looked at the map. I just assumed it was around Buckingham Fountain like it was for the marathon. The tent for packet pickup was labeled well with where exactly to drop off your bags. Also the volunteers were very helpful.

The Race

After the pre race ceremonies (which included seeing a your girl given a trip of her dreams through Make-A-Wish and then the national Anthem) Corral A was off with the sound of an air horn. Each corral of the race had its own start which eliminate congestion. There were 30,000 runners at this race. It would be near impossible to get everyone started together. I do think their system works well.

The first mile of the course is basically in a tunnel. It’s hard to see and on a warmer day, it smells like urine. On this day, it didn’t smell that bad. While it is cool to run through a large city with no traffic, this course was boring. It really didn’t go past any of the real scenic city areas of Chicago until the last couple of miles while running along the lake front and by Soldier Field and the Field Museum.

A couple negatives about the course happened in the same area. There was a short section of our and back, followed by going under McCormick Place. Not sure why every Chicago Race (besides the marathon) has to go under McCormick Place. As far as the out and back, there seems to be plenty of room to either push the start line back a little bit or move the finish line down the road to get the distance right and eliminate this mess. ​

Oh, how can I forget about the aid stations?!?!? Each aid station had water, Nuun and candy. First aid station had chocolate chips, second had candy corn, third had M&M’s and forth had chocolate marshmallows. If you run a hot chocolate race, don’t do as I did and just slam the whole cup of M&M’s at obce

The finish line was at the same location as the Marathon. An announcer was calling out finishers names. Not sure if he said mine or not, as I am never really paying that close attention but I find it hard to believe with such a large race that they are able to say everyone’s name.

Post Race

After crossing the finish line, you are handed a medal from a volunteer (not put around your neck) and you make your way down the finish shoot. First opportunity for hydration came in the form of a cup of Nuun which I don’t drink. Had to walk quiet a ways down the line before being offered a bottled water. No food to be found in the finish line area. All food was in the post race party area. Finishers medal. Also came with a key chain that had the Bean on it.

It was easy to claim my gear from gear check post race. What wasn’t easy was walking backwards along the course. So much of the Park was blocked off to spectators that I had to walk 2-3 blocks around the park to get to the finish line and walk along the course.

The post race party contrinued in Grant Park where you could redeem the tab in your race bib for your large mug filled with hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, marshmallows, pretzels, bananas and cookies. It was a tasty post race snack to say the least. Also in the post race party area there was music as well. Everyone around seeemed to be really enjoying themselves.

Swag

I really like the quarter zip jackets that were the race shirts last year. Hot Chocolate does a great job of allowing runners to vote on which jacket colors that runners want to see as their race jacket every year and this year, I think they turned out great! The medals are great as well.
Also, there were free race photo downloads. My finish line photo and pre race photo with Tina wasn’t too bad, but the one from on the course was a little blurry. 2 our of 3 ain’t bad. I guess you get what you pay for. Haha

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(2017)
"The b Strong 5k has their act together "
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
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The b Strong 5k was held on July 29, 2017 in Bremen, IN. The weather was as close to perfect as you can hope for in a late July Race. Temps were right around 60 degrees, it was sunny, and a slight breeze.

This was the 3rd annual b Strong 5k, which also features a 1 mile fun run for both kids and adults. The inaugural year, I volunteered at the race while my wife ran. Last year we all ran in it, and this year we all ran it again. The 5k race began at 8:00am.

The race is held in honor of Karen Newley, who’s:

“love for God and his faithfulness gave her strength through her journey with lung cancer. Karen never smoked, was an avid runner, and lived a very healthy life. Her courage and positive outlook in a very difficult circumstance inspired and gave hope to many. She will not be remembered as a cancer patient, but rather as a brave and faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Karen leaves behind a legacy of hope. She had a deep love for people, and she made everyone she met feel like a close friend. Karen deeply loved children, and had a passion for teaching and mentoring students. Karen’s last words were, “pray for the children”. The mission of the b STRONG 31:6 fund, created in her honor, is to continue her legacy by helping children and families in our community thrive in faith, education, and fitness.”
Registration: we registered for the 5k when fees were only $15! Great price for an awesome race. Registration did go up as the race got closer to $20 and then $25. Online registration was completed on runsignup.com. There was race day registration.

Swag: along with your bib, you received a race shirt and a bag with sponsor information, as well as other local race information. Each participant also receive a green b Strong cup as well. This is the third year we have received this cup sowe have worked up a pretty good collection.

Atmosphere: prior to the race, the DJ was doing a great job playing upbeat music to get everyone pumped up to run. Also leading up to the race announcements were being made making sure people knew what was going on. Right before the race, a young girl sang the national anthem (she was awesome) and a prayer was given.

Race: the race started right at 8:00. The course is mostly flat with one hill right before mile 2. It’s not too bad of the hill but it has been named “b Strong Hill.” ​ The best part of this race is that it is a completely closed course to traffic. There are volunteers or police officers at every intersection making sure that no cars went onto the course. There were also 3 aid stations on the course. They were located at mile 1, mile 2, and a little past 2.5.

Post race food: never a shortage of food at this race. Always have plenty of fruit, granola bars, and especially cookies. The cookies were awesome! There was also bottled water as well.

Awards: awards were given to the top 3 overall male and females in the race, plus top 3 in each age division. Divisions were broken down to every 5 years. There was a new medal for this years age group winners.

I do really like the medals, they are awesome, maybe go back to a little smaller. Just a way of saving some money for the foundation. But who knows, maybe they were donated. I really don’t know, but they are unique and specific to the race which I like.

Overall: as much as I don’t like 5k races (it’s the distance, not the race itself), this is a very well run event. It is a race that is on our schedule year after year and always want to make sure we are in town for it. The organization is always top notch, and the town really supports this race. Bigger towns can learn from them.

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